Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro is relishing every moment of his return to Grand Slam action at Wimbledon after being pushed to the brink of retirement by a serious wrist injury.
Del Potro has battled his way back from three wrist operations that left him depressed and considering whether it was time to hang up his racket for good last year.
The 27-year-old Argentine marked his comeback by crushing France’s Stephane Robert 6-1, 7-5, 6-0 in the Wimbledon first round.
His reward for successfully coming through his first Grand Slam match in 894 days is a fascinating second round tie against world number five Stan Wawrinka on Thursday.
“This is my comeback after three years. It means I’m feeling great sensations,” del Potro said.
“I was close to quitting at the end of last year but now is completely different.
“I’m expecting to be better in the future, but for this year my biggest challenge is to finish healthy and make a good preparation for next year.”
Renowned for his huge ground-strokes, the 6ft 6in del Potro was tipped as a serious challenger to the big guns after beating Roger Federer aged just 20 in the 2009 US Open final.
Del Potro still possesses the same power game that rocked Federer and he banished world number 79 Robert in ruthless style.
Overcoming Wawrinka, a two-time Grand Slam champion, would be another huge step on the road to recovery, but regardless of the result, del Potro, now ranked a lowly 165, is just relieved to be back.
“I’m feeling better week by week. I’m going one step at a time at the moment. I wake up and I can set my practice and I do it,” he said.
“That’s important for my mind, as well, because I’m not thinking about treatments or injuries or doctors.
“Just want to play free. That’s what I’m doing at the moment. I’m in a good way to be healthy very soon.”
– Marathon –
Del Potro’s last appearance at Wimbledon three years ago had provided further evidence of his potential as he rattled Novak Djokovic in a marathon five-set semi-final before finally succumbing.
“I was here in 2013 making the semi-finals in a great match against Djokovic,” del Potro said.
“But my family and friends was very important for me. They were behind me all the time and pushed me up every day.
“I’m enjoying tennis again. I’m starting to talk about tennis and no more about my wrist. That’s important.”
Fourth seed Wawrinka, a first round winner over American teenager Taylor Fritz, is pleased to see del Potro back on the tour.
However, Wawrinka would rather not have faced such a dangerous opponent on the fast grass courts that suit his game.
“For sure I think we’re all happy that he’s back on the tour, hopefully without any injury, and he can play for a long time now,” Wawrinka said.
“He always been a great champion, a great player to watch also.
“I remember him winning the US Open, for sure, against Roger. An incredible match.
“I had some tough matches against him as well. It’s going to be difficult. He’s playing well again.” – Agence France-Presse