In English, the Spanish word potro can be translated as stallion. By reaching the final tennis game in the Rio Olympic Games Juan Martin Del Potro (Delpo) proved once more that he is a stallion, with enormous energy and strength to confront his adversaries. At the Olympic Games he defeated first Novak Djokovik (the world’s No. 1 player) and then Rafael Nadal to reach the final game with Andy Murray.
Although Del Potro lost to Murray, he proved to be a worthy opponent. As The New York Times stated, “Andy Murray put a brighter shine on his finest tennis season by winning his second straight Olympic gold medal in singles on Sunday night, but surely Juan Martin Del Potro deserves something more precious than silver.”
His achievement is significant since he was unable to play for years, due to four rounds of surgery on his wrist. He entered the Rio Olympic Games ranked No. 141 in the world. After defeating João Sousa, Taro Daniel and Roberto Bautista Agut, Del Potro played against Rafael Nadal. During that game, there was a marked contrast between the self-assured stand of the Spaniard and the almost worrisome look in Delpo’s face throughout the game.
Delpo is one of the most admired tennis players and a fan to all Argentines. Because of the rivalry in sports between Brazil and Argentina, Brazilian fans were wildly in favor of Nadal. Together with Del Potro’s popularity, this may explain the almost rowdy atmosphere during the game, where Argentine and Brazilian fans’ uproar obliged the chair umpire to call them to attention several times.
The Brazilians’ constant heckling caused the chair umpire to state repeatedly in exasperation, “Ladies and gentlemen. This is a tennis event. Please be fair and respect both players.” The Brazilians answered the umpire’s plea with a chorus of boos.
Del Potro’s is an offensive baseliner and his forehand is one of his main strengths, capable of generating speeds of over 100 mph. He also has a powerful double-handed backhand. Delpo is a superstitious player, and always uses the same outdated Wilson Hyper Pro Staff 6.1 which has gone through several paint jobs.
Del Potro started playing tennis when he was seven years-old. “When I was young, I only knew about soccer. I was waiting for a soccer practice. It was an hour. So boring. A person gave a racquet to me. I hit the wall. And maybe after six months I decide I want to stay with tennis.”
Since then, he has had a successful career. In 2008, he achieved a top-10 ranking by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). In 2009, he was seeded sixth at the US Open. He defeated Australian Open Champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and reached his first Grand Slam final.
He defeated five-time defending champion Roger Federer in five sets and became the first Argentine male to win the title since Guillermo Vilas in 1977. “Since I was young I dream with this and want to take the trophy with me,” he said. In January 2010, he reached a No. 4 world ranking, after which he had to withdraw from most tournaments due to his wrist injury. After a long absence, he returned to the ATP World Tour in February 2016.
Del Potro came to the final with a 2–5 record against Andy Murray, who was coming off a Wimbledon title and is amid one of best winning streaks (17 matches) of his career. In addition, Murray was in considerable better physical shape than Del Potro before their final match, taking him much less effort and time to win his semifinal game.
It was evident after the first set that Del Potro, despite the enormous energy coming from his enthusiastic fans, was already extremely tired and would probably be unable to hold his own against a much fresher Murray. And although he made tremendous physical effort, he had to concede the game to Murray. Murray became the champion and proved again that he is a remarkable player, the first to win two tennis gold medals. Both players honored the game, but for the Argentine fans, for whom Del Potro is already a legend, even in defeat he was a winner.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a New York writer and a sports fan.