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Silver lining to del Potro's prospects at US Open

Juan Martin del Potro, who made a dramatic comeback to the game this year after a series of injuries that saw him plummet out of the top 1,000, shows the strain of the four-set loss to Andy Murray in the men's singles final at the Rio Olympics. Del P
Juan Martin del Potro, who made a dramatic comeback to the game this year after a series of injuries that saw him plummet out of the top 1,000, shows the strain of the four-set loss to Andy Murray in the men's singles final at the Rio Olympics. Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, has been given a wild card for the tournament that begins in New York today.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Juan Martin del Potro is in the US Open men's singles competition as a wild card. Quite a surprise, given that he just won silver at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

But then the talented Argentinian's world ranking has plummeted to 142.

This is not because his game has waned.

A series of injuries kept him off the court, and he dropped out of the top 100 rankings in 2014 after being world No. 5 the previous year.

A wrist injury kept him off court for most of last year and he underwent multiple surgical procedures. There were times during his rehabilitation when he almost gave up the sport.

But, having falling to 1,045th in the world rankings, he made a tentative return on clay this year but decided not to enter the French Open.

His appearance at Wimbledon was his first at a Grand Slam in 21/2 years but few people expected him to win his second-round match against Stan Wawrinka, the world No. 4.

Del Potro fought hard to win in four sets and, although he ran out of steam against Lucas Pouille in the third round, here was a reminder of why he was seen as the fifth Beatle of tennis before the run of injuries struck him down.

After all, Wawrinka was 28 when he made his breakthrough in Australia.

Del Potro was 20 when he became the first player to beat Nadal and Federer in the same Grand Slam, beating Federer in an unforgettable US Open final in 2009.

Seven years on from that scintillating five-set win, a revitalised del Potro is in New York as a strong contender to win his second Grand Slam title.

In Rio, victories over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round and No. 5 Rafael Nadal in the semi-final were proof of his return to the top echelon.

Beating Murray over five sets in the final was too much of a physical challenge, especially on a hard court that was so slow it was likened to clay, but del Potro's threat cannot be overlooked on the faster surface at Flushing Meadows.

"He's done amazing, really, to get back to playing and competing again at this level after all of the issues he had with his wrists," Murray said in Rio. "Mentally, I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been, to kind of keep going through the same problem and having to try and come back."

Besides showing recovery from injury, del Potro has also been gaining in confidence.

"I felt once again I had the capability to play against the best in the world," he said after he defeated Djokovic. "After everything I've been through with my wrist, I also played well with my forehand."

Fifteen years after wildcard Goran Ivanisevic played a wildly entertaining two weeks of tennis to win Wimbledon, del Potro might just match that feat if he plays his cards well.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 29, 2016, with the headline 'Silver lining to del Potro's prospects at US Open'. Print Edition | Subscribe