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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Mar 2, 2011

3/2/2011 3:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |

Juan Martin del Potro won an honest to God title. After a year away (Bangkok and Tokyo never happened people), after wrist surgery, rumors of mental breakdowns and panic attacks, Satanic possession and more false starts than you can shake a Gilles Simon arm at (he’s returning at Indian Wells! No, the clay! No, Thailand! No, the US Open! No, Thailand!), Delpo is once again in the winner’s circle. Rejoice!

It’s okay, I can wait.

No really.

As a result of his big win in Delray Beach, so much is being written about The Return of Delpo. Look out Roger and Rafa! Watch your backs Novak and Andy! As thrilled as I am for the Tower of Tandil – thrilled being what one might call a massive understatement – I’d like to take this opportunity to bring the party to a crashing halt.

What?

Yup. Cut the music, turn on the lights, you in the corner put your clothes back on. The party’s over. Not because we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves with wild expectation (we don’t), or because the Argentine still has a ways to go before he really is the del Potro of old (he does), or even because his win was at the very lowest level tour tournament (it was). No, I’m putting the breaks on because, by hurling ourselves into the future, we’re ignoring a pretty big present.

Taking it day-by-day

When Juan Martin was taken from us (after being fully realized and delivered to us in the summer of ’09), we were heartbroken.  So much talent. So much misfortune.  All we could talk about was his awful situation with his wrist and how much we desperately wanted him back. Worst of all, we knew he was hurting too. What little information did leak from the Delpo camp was his pure and utter emotional devastation. The image of this gentle giant poised for greatness/21-year-old kid shipwrecked in despair cut deep.  Fast forward to February 2011. Back-to-back-to-back semifinals + a Delray Beach title + a ranking surge from No. 484 on Feb 7 to No. 89 a mere three weeks later = SWEET RELIEF! The suffering is over, Delpo is back, now which Grand Slam will he have his best crack at?

But in all the revelry we’re missing the middle part, and that’s the humbling, grueling emotional and physical work it took to get here today.

Cream rises to the top, absolutely. And no one can deny del Potro doesn’t have a wicked advantage with that mighty hammer of Thor he calls a forehand. But talent isn’t a guarantee for a successful comeback. Take Nicole Vaidisova. She has (note use of the present tense) all the talent in the world, but by the time she threw up her hands in complete and total disgust with the sport she was losing in the first rounds of 25K Challengers.

Or take James Blake. When James didn’t get a main draw wild card into this year’s Australian Open, he opted to skip the Australian swing altogether rather than try to work his way through qualies. The why is his business, but the clear take-away is a lack of true hunger. And just a hint, possibly, maybe, of pride.

But there’s no room for ego in a comeback. Struggling to prove yourself after you’ve already tasted wild success can be and often is a humiliating affair. For a player who’s been near the very top of the game, losing to players you used to beat can be soul-shattering to say the least. And God forbid you go online to read about those losses afterwards. I’m not even talking about message boards. The press carries a big enough sword.

Disappointing… Crashes out… His inauspicious return continues… (This is actual reportage of JMdP’s comeback efforts in Asia in the fall.)

But if tennis is in your heart and soul, you persevere. You do what you have to do to get better. You appreciate each and every step forward and you learn something from each and every step back.  Del Potro did just that. With no ego. He knew people wanted to see him perform again, and at a high level. But he manned up, forced that out of his head and just focused on the tiny yellow ball. It was more important than him.

So yes I’m cutting one party short, but I’m kicking off another. At this party, the celebration of Delpo’s achievements so far in 2011 isn’t for what it signifies for the future. It’s for what it signifies about the man today. It celebrates what it took for him to get to where he is right here, right now.  Today.  He’s shown how to make a successful comeback, and I hope like hell other players use him as an example. Players like Dinara Safina, Maria Sharapova, Tommy Haas, James Blake and (fingers crossed) Nicole Vaidisova. If they consider the character and the patience and the humility del Potro’s shown, they may not have that mighty hammer of Thor, but they’ll have something that just might be even stronger.

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Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.