Juan Martin del Potro was the only player, apart from Andy Murray to win a Grand Slam title outside of the big three of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for a period of close to 10 years.
When the first decade of the 21st century was taking place in Tennis, Roger Federer was at the peak of his powers. Rafael Nadal was snapping at his heels as he denied him the French Open title on many occasions. Novak Djokovic was an upcoming player who had not yet cemented his place among the big three. For many years, the feeling was there was no player who could defeat the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam. From 2005 to 2009, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic won 17 out of the 18 Grand Slams.
That all changed in the 2009 US Open. A certain Argentinian Tennis player decided to script his own moment of history. He not only broke the monopoly of the ‘Big Three’, but he ended the streak of a legend. That streak has not been achieved even after 12 years. Juan Martin del Potro created history in the 2009 US Open as he achieved something no player had ever achieved in that era.
Argentina had a history of producing great Tennis players in the history of the sport. It was Guillermo Vilas who put the country on the map as he won four Grand Slams in the Open Era. In the subsequent decades, Gaston Gaudio won the French Open. But, with the emergence of the big three, Argentina failed to produce many quality Tennis players.
That all changed with the arrival of Juan Martin del Potro. Armed with a powerful serve and a tall frame, del Potro had all the goods to make it big in the Tennis world. But, if he was blessed with two great attributes, he was cursed with a fragile body. The more he played on hard courts, his injury would flare up at all times.
The starting of his career was plagued with plenty of injuries. Back and wrist issues saw him getting sidelined for a significant period of time. The injuries did not seem to affect his rhythm as he won five titles in 2008 and broke into the top 20. At the age of 20, he was the youngest player from South America to have broken into the list.
Despite all the injury issues in 2008, del Potro had some good form heading into the year. He entered the Australian Open quarterfinal but struggled in the French and Wimbledon tournaments. However, at the US Open, he stitched a remarkable run that would redefine the very nature of the sport.
Del Potro entered the semi-final after almost being on the brink of elimination in the quarterfinal. He was down a set and a break, before winning 17 of the final 20 games to win the match against Marin Cilic. In the semi-final, he put on a clinical display to beat Rafael Nadal in straight sets. In fact, this was Nadal’s third straight loss to del Potro. But, in the final, he was facing Roger Federer. The Swiss had won five consecutive US Open titles and had gotten the wood over Del Potro in the last couple of matches.
In the final, del Potro lost the first set but he bounced back in the second set to win on a tie-breaker. Federer won the third set and looked set to win a record sixth consecutive US Open, a feat unmatched in the Open Era. But, del Potro refused to go down. He won the fourth set in a tie-breaker and he won the fifth set 6-2.
In a space of a couple of days, Del Potro had beaten both Nadal and Federer and he won the US Open in grand style. He became the fourth Argentinian after Vilas, Gabriela Sabatini and Gaston Gaudio to have won a Grand Slam title.
Del Potro suffered a wrist injury that would later plague his career. He fell out of the top 100 and made a comeback. But, he almost came close to fulfilling his glory when he helped Argentina reach the final of the Davis Cup tournament. But, he lost to Rafael Nadal and Spain managed to win the title. Del Potro secured the Olympic bronze in 2012 but In 2013, he had a great year. He defeated Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells and entered the top five.
The achievements in 2013 resulted in him being named Argentina’s Sportsman of the Year. But, a second wrist injury saw him go out of the tour for two years. But, as in previous instances, his comeback was brilliant. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, he defeated Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to enter the final. But, in the gold medal clash, he lost to Andy Murray but he had won an Olympic medal for the second consecutive time.
But, his crowning glory came in the 2016 Davis Cup encounter as Argentina reached the final again. His first match was a four-set victory against Ivo Karlovic. Partnering Leonardo Mayer, del Potro lost in doubles against Ivan Dodig and Marin Cilic. 2–1 down in matches, del Potro played in singles against Cilic. Del Potro came back from two sets down for the first time in his career to win in five sets. Described as one of the best Davis Cup comebacks ever, del Potro leveled the score at 2–2. Federico Delbonis completed the comeback by beating Ivo Karlovic in straight sets, thus claiming Argentina’s first-ever Davis Cup title.
After the glory of the Davis Cup, del Potro’s career continued to be plagued with injuries. His sporadic appearances on the tour have seen him drop out of the reckoning for the titles. With Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer now tied with 20 titles, the chances of anyone else winning the title is now remote.
But, for a brief period, Del Potro, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Andy Murray had broken the triopoly of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Del Potro started the trend and Murray continued along with Wawrinka. The 2009 US Open was a brilliant exhibition of David getting the better of Goliath.