Yesterday Juan Martin del Potro underwent wrist surgery for "residual tendonitis." Don't be fooled. This is huge.
The good news is he was in and out in 40 minutes, with an estimated recovery time of four months. Compared to some reports that he could be MIA until 2011, four months is actually a vast improvement. The bad news is, four months – scratch that, seven months including the time he'll have played his last match - of sitting on the sidelines does not a happy delpo make.
A sign of "Coria Syndrome"?
Flashback to 2009. I'm talking to the Argentine about his last bout of Serious Injury, a hideously hateful, hatefully hideous bad back that forced him to retire from tournament after tournament, once actually in tears against Andy Murray in Rome in 2008. "You feel so bad," del Potro told me. "The first five weeks I was doing nothing. I cannot run, I cannot do any machine, I cannot play tennis. That time was very complicated for me. My mind was completely bad."
Argentine press has been whipped up the last few weeks with similar stories of head troubles, from panic attacks and depression to something called "Coria Syndrome" (apparently Guillermo is a condition now). Del Potro has denied this. True or not, his career has already been wracked with more trauma than most, and he's only 21. Besides which, if it were true, who would blame him? It's one thing to go through one career-threatening injury, but two? I'm surprised he's not up in some bell tower with a sniper, aiming at god himself.
That's what any average player would do. But let's not forget, Del Potro is anything but average. He's, well, spectacular. This is a guy who, after shocking the sport with his 5-set win over Roger Federer in the US Open final, leaped to the head of the class as the future of the sport. Sports Illustrated even called him the player who'd dominate tennis for the next decade. And yet he can't even twiddle his thumbs on the sidelines with his hand in a cast. That's like being gifted the fastest car in the world but being told it has to stay in the garage. Are you kidding me? Baby wants to ride!
I can't overstate the loss to tennis as it is, and should that four-month recovery time wind up being too optimistic an estimate, it's going to be a disaster for del Potro, for his fans and for the sport. This is a guy who famously allowed Rafael Nadal only six games at the '09 US Open, and for those who say Rafa was coming back from injury, I offer the win against the Spaniard in Miami last year when Rafa was feelin' fine. Federer was feelin' fine at the US Open when del Potro overwhelmed him with that forehand (that forehand!) for the win, a feat he repeated at the World Tour Finals. The only reason del Potro is dropping in the rankings today is because he's not playing. Period.
Del Porto also told me last year in regards to his back injury, "I retired many many times, 5 or 6, and it's not good for me, not good for the tournaments. For the people also. The people start to speak bad things about me."
He's not crazy. They were. And it's starting again. His wrist has been bugging him since last year, and yet when he couldn't follow up on that immediate success in New York, he was "a flash in the pan." "A one Slam wonder." Come September, October, or whenever we see him back on court, I can only imagine the pitch that chatter will reach. To those who want to rewrite history, I say this: Get over it. Juan Martin del Potro not only was the real deal, he is the real deal. I love Fed and Nadal as much as you do, and I certainly enjoy Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as much as the next guy. But to pretend del Potro isn't a part of that same conversation is delusional.
To Juan Martin, no matter how badly your fans want you back, no matter how far your ranking drops (and it will, outside the top twenty), no matter what people are saying about you, no matter how badly you want to take that sports car out of the garage, please don't step foot on court until that wrist is 100% again. And if that means 2011, so be it. If you're going to rule the next decade, you have nine more years to reign. Or at least give hell to the guys in the throne.
And to JMdP's fans, take heart. He changed his entire game to not only come back from a crippling back injury, but win a major. And you can come back strong after wrist surgery. Just look at Venus Williams, Andre Agassi and Kim Clijsters. He said yesterday in a statement that "I'm used to fighting adversity and I have all the strength to pull this off." Believe him.
STOP THE PRESSES! I just launched a LaRosa's Sweet Spot fan page on facebook, which will be a dumping ground for all my tennis garbage. So for you twitter-phobics (and I don't blame you, it's a scary scary place), come check me out at http://www.facebook.com/pages/LaRosas-Sweet-Spot/123565537658545?v=info&ref=sgm.
For those brave enough, follow me at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.