Amid the hype of new Grand Slam champions Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, plus the steady progress of Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov nipping at the big guns’ feet, there was one name notably absent from the fray in 2014.
Still only 26, Juan Martin del Potro will make a second comeback from a long-term wrist injury, returning to competition in his Brisbane debut as among four current or former US Open champions in the 2015 men’s draw.
The Tower from Tandil remains one of only two men to have beaten Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in succession – Djokovic being the other – but a cruel run of season-ending wrist injuries has thrown more than the odd curve ball at the popular Argentine’s career.
“I’ve been practising well,” said del Potro, who is the midst of intensive pre-season training in order to be fully prepared for the Australian summer. “I don’t have pain anymore. I’ve been feeling better day by day.”
Del Potro looked to be knocking on the door of another breakthrough when he arrived for the 2014 Australian Open fresh from winning the Sydney final and on the back of a solid season in 2013. He had finished in the top five for the first time in more than three years and was named Argentina’s Sportsman of the Year, ahead of one of the world’s footballing greats, Lionel Messi.
In his standout Grand Slam result of 2013, he came close to reaching his first Wimbledon final after upsetting fourth seed David Ferrer before falling to Djokovic in a 4hr 43mins marathon five-setter; the longest Wimbledon semifinal in history.
He took down Andy Murray and Djokovic before going close to beating Rafael Nadal in the Indian Wells final, but would avenge the defeat to the Spaniard later that year, crushing him in Shanghai. He also sent Federer packing three times in a row, including on the Swiss star’s home turf in the Basel final, to be the only player to beat all of the Big 4 that season.
Then the unkind case of déjà vu.
Having claimed the US Open title in 2009, del Potro had already missed most of the 2010 season to a right wrist injury.
After a disappointing 2014 Australian Open campaign where a lingering left wrist injury had flared up, the Argentine played two more events before undergoing surgery to repair damaged ligaments in March. He would miss the remainder of the season.
Having fallen to a ranking of No.138, del Potro will use a protected ranking of No.7 when he competes in Brisbane. Provided he can stay injury-free and start clocking what Djokovic regards as the best forehand in the men’s game again with confidence, his is a name the breakout players from last season will be all too wary of in the season ahead.
You can catch Juan Martin del Potro in action at the 2015 Brisbane International presented by Suncorp and supported by Tourism and Events Queensland. The event will be held at Queensland Tennis Centre from 4-11 January. Tickets are now on sale through Ticketek.