The Untold Truth Of Tennis Star Juan Martin Del Potro

When Juan Martin del Potro stepped onto the court before a packed stadium in his home country of Argentina for his final tennis match on February 8, 2022, calling it an emotional moment was a massive understatement. Just days before, fans were celebrating the return of the 33-year-old after a recurring knee injury had sidelined him for nearly three years. But, as those devotees learned, del Potro's entry to the Argentina Open wasn't the return they had hoped. "I think this is one of the most difficult messages that I've had to give," del Potro said during a pre-tournament press conference, as he choked back tears, per Sky Sports, noting that "this is more of a farewell than a comeback."

Throughout his career, Juan Martin del Potro was known as one of the hardest-hitting players, who used his power to catapult him to the top of the game. With 22 career titles to his name — including the 2009 U.S. Open — del Potro reached the top five in the world multiple times, and a career-high of number three in 2018. However, his career was riddled with injuries that kept him from consistently competing throughout his 17-year career that put him in the same conversation as tennis legends Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. Despite the injuries, his winning ways have earned him more than $25 million in prize money. Del Po, as he's often called by adoring fans, is one of the most beloved tennis figures of all time.

Del Potro's youth was marked with sport and tragedy

Juan Martin del Potro was born on September 23, 1988, in Tandil, a city of a little more than 100,000 people in the mountains of the Buenos Aires province of Argentina. His mother, Patricia, is a language and literature teacher. And his father, Daniel, who died in 2021, was a veterinarian and former semi-professional rugby player, per Essentially Sports. He has a younger sister, Julieta, and when he was very young, his older sister was killed in a car accident. He believes she is his guardian angel. "I had a sister who died many years ago, and I believe that she protects me from the sky, del Potro told the Independent. "She was 8 years old. It was a car accident in Argentina. I was 5 or 6, so it was much worse for my parents."

Del Potro's first love was soccer, but was introduced to tennis at the age of 7 and played both sports throughout his youth. Before long, he took to tennis for its individual element and rapidly excelled in competitions that took him to tournaments throughout Argentina — and the world. "Since the beginning, my dad and my mom have done everything possible so that I can travel," del Potro said, according to La Nacion. That often meant sending young Juan Martin on the road with his coach, while Daniel and Patricia remained at home.

Del Potro reached the top level of pro tennis in just 3 years

After a successful junior career reaching a high of No. 3 in the world rankings, del Potro turned pro in 2005 at the age of 16. Over the course of three years, he steadily rose in the rankings. By the end of 2007, he had was the youngest player in the top 50 in the world, per ATP Tour. Now standing 6' 6", del Potro, who had become known as the "Gentle Giant" of tennis, had also become an incredibly ferocious competitor by the summer of 2008, going on a streak of winning four straight ATP tournaments and reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open — something that surprised even him. 

"I don't really understand what I did. It is difficult to believe that I have won four consecutive titles," del Potro said [via the ATP Tour], crediting his newly-added coach Franco Davín. "He changed my game. He changed my mind. He changed everything. When I play and I see him in the stands, it gives me confidence."

Del Potro's breakout year resulted in ending 2008 in the top 10 in the world for the first time as a professional. He also qualified for the prestigious year-end ATP finals, as well as helping his country reach the finals of the Davis Cup before falling to Spain. He would later represent Argentina in a successful 2012 Davis Cup run, as well as winning bronze in the 2012 Olympic Games and silver in 2016.

The win that put him on the map

In 2009, del Potro took the success of the previous year and built on it. He scored wins over Rafael Nadal after never having beaten him, reached the top five for the first time, and picked up three more titles, including a five-set thriller over Roger Federer (pictured above) in the finals, per ATP Tour. The 20-year-old del Potro became only the second Argentinian to win the U.S. Open, following Guillermo Vilas, who won the tournament in 1977. 

In his victory speech, del Potro said he was partially able to do what he set out to achieve. "I had two dreams this week," he said, per Eurosport. "One was to win the U.S. Open and the other one is to be like Roger ... One is done, but I need to improve a lot to be like you. You fought until the final point. You are a great champion," he said, looking at Federer.

The underdog win made the tennis world take notice. Del Potro's booming serves, Howitzer-like forehand, and graceful movement for a big player were no longer a matter of potential — they all added up to a win at one of tennis' majors.

Injuries robbed del Potro of years of his best tennis

Almost as soon as del Potro entered professional tennis, injuries began. At first, they were strained muscles that had straightforward remedies. But soon after his 2009 U.S. Open victory, the more serious injuries began. From May 4, 2010, to August 26, 2020, Del Po had endured seven surgeries, according to Tennis magazine. Ligaments, joints, tendons — they all required surgery. 

Over the course of five years, he had both of his wrists operated on a total of four times, causing chatter in Argentina media. "The problem wasn't in Juan Martin's head," Dr. Richard Berger, an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who treated del Potro, told Grantland. "It was in his wrist." Eventually, del Potro found a combination that worked: some relief from surgery, therapeutic regimens, alterations to his game, and learning to live with a certain amount of pain.

However, it was his right knee that became the most devastating and enduring injury. Three surgeries in a little more than a year and much rehabilitation kept Del Po off the tour for nearly three years. "I'm putting in so much effort to be able to continue but the knee has been a nightmare," a frustrated del Potro said, per Yahoo! News. "I've been trying alternatives and ways to resolve it for years and today I just can't manage it."

An inevitable retirement comes too soon

The year 2021 wasn't a good one for Juan Martin del Potro. In January, his father Daniel died following heart surgery, per The Sun. "You've left us here with a broken heart, but we know that you are resting in peace like you deserve," Juan Martin posted on Instagram. "Now you have joined your other angel, and I ask that you please watch over my mom, my sister, and me from above." 

Reports later surfaced that while tending to his father's affairs, the family learned that Daniel had mismanaged Juan Martin's money, losing $30 million in the process — nearly all of it — according to Last Word on Sports. Del Potro is reportedly left with less than a few million dollars, which is a lot of money, but only 10% of what he thought he had.

With significantly less money than planned, the 33-year-old was also facing the prospect of not being able to recover the funds the same way he made his fortune due to injury. "I never imagined retiring from tennis anywhere other than out there on the court," del Potro said, per Reuters. He left open the slim possibility of being able to play again, "But what I know is that now I have to choose to live as a 33-year-old, trying not to be in pain, and not as a professional sportsperson which I have felt like up until now and because of which I never gave up."