Juan Martin del Potro makes winning return at Delray Beach, but veteran returner Haas falls
Juan Martin del Potro made a successful 2017 ATP World Tour at the Delray Beach Open, posting a 6-4 6-4 win over Kevin Anderson
It was a momentous day not just for Argentina but for one of the biggest men to pick up a tennis racket for that nation, Juan Martin del Potro.
For this tennis-loving country, one of the longest-serving members of the Davis Cup family, had made the Davis Cup final four times: Now at their fifth attempt, they were champions.
And there was no doubting the hero of the weekend. Del Potro fought off Ivo Karlovic in four sets on the Friday, played in doubles on Saturday, and had to beat Marin Cilic on Sunday to keep his nation’s hopes alive.
Del Potro had never come back from two sets down to win a five-setter, and staring across the net at 5-5 in the third set, it looked increasingly like a step too far, but win he did, after 4hrs 53 mins—even with a fractured finger.
Yet del Potro had begun the year ranked outside the top 1,000, and had been making his way up the ranking ladder after a fourth bout of wrist surgery. By the final in Zagreb, he was at No38, had an Olympic silver medal, and had won the ATP’s Comeback Player of the Year award for the second time.
That comeback began this time last year in Delray Beach, Florida after a year away. The Argentine was making his first appearance there since winning the title in 2011, and he went all the way to the semi-finals.
Now the popular Argentine has again chosen Delray Beach to make his return, and once again made a winning return over friend and fellow former champion, Kevin Anderson.
Ahead of his 6-4, 6-4, hour-and-a-half victory, del Potro talked about choosing the Florida event.
“It’s a really good tournament to be my first of the season. I’m so happy to be playing here. I have great memories from winning the title in 2011, and it was a special memory for me reaching the semi-finals here last year… The atmosphere on the court is great. Many fans come to support me, so that gives me a special energy to play.”
He went on to talk about his hopes for the season ahead. He told ATPWorldTour.com:
“I’m very happy with how last year went. I only played 12 tournaments and I finished in the top 40. This year is a big challenge for me because if I can play 20 tournaments, I can move up more in the rankings and get closer to playing the top guys.”
Among those top players is the No1 seed and world No4, Milos Raonic, who is playing in Delray Beach for the first time.
The Canadian has already put together some good results on the hard courts in 2017, beginning with a win over Rafael Nadal in Brisbane to reach the semis, followed by a loss to Nadal in the quarters of the Australian Open.
However, Raonic missed the Davis Cup tie against GB with injury at the start of the month, so naturally he was pleased to make a winning start this week, 6-1, 6-4, over Tim Smyczek, to set up a second-round contest against Borna Coric.
“Overall I have to be happy. I haven’t played much tennis over the last few weeks, and I really put in as much work as I could over the last week to get into my best shape here… I’ve won my first match and I hope I can continue. I feel good.”
He could meet del Potro in the semis, though Briton Kyle Edmund is lined up as a first seed in the quarters and the Argentine could face the defending champion Sam Querrey.
Indeed, Querrey and del Potro are the only former champions left from the five in the draw, after 2015 winner and No2 seed Karlovic lost out in his opener to Donald Young in two tie-breakers. And that left just Tommy Haas.
The 38-year-old Haas was champion in Delray Beach in 2006, but like del Potro, he has contended with more than his share of injuries and surgery both before and since.
A world No2 way back in 2002 and four times a Grand Slam semi-finalist, Haas missed great swathes of several seasons after playing his first Major match at the US Open in 1996. He endured two broken ankles, an accident that almost claimed the lives of his parents, then major shoulder surgery, wrist injury, hip surgery, and elbow surgery—but Haas continued to defy the odds.
In 2013, he worked his way back inside the top 20 before more shoulder surgery in 2014. He returned to the grass of 2015 but won only two matches through the year, and then missed the whole of 2016 with more shoulder problems and a ninth surgery to repair a torn ligament in his foot.
Exhaustion got the better of him on his return to this year’s Australian Open on a protected ranking, so it was with considerable excitement for his many fans that he appeared in the Delray Beach draw this week.
Haas’s segment opened up, too, with Karlovic and No6 seed Bernard Tomic beaten at the first hurdle. And with the first set and a break in the second against Nikoloz Basilashvili, Haas looked as though he may score his first main-tour win since Wimbledon 2015. Alas, he was broken back, lost a gruelling tie-break, 6-7(8), and ran out of form, 2-6, in the third set after two and a quarter hours.
He admitted: “It just sucks when you’re that close to possibly winning a match and you don’t. I haven’t had that feeling in a long time… and it’s not a good feeling.
“It’s so tough when you are out for over a year and you come back and play like eight events, and you’re out for over a year and now it’s your second time back.”
Who knows, then, how much longer Haas will keep up the good fight. For a start, he changes hats at Indian Wells next month where he becomes tournament director of one of the most prestigious events on the main tour.
But before that, he has at least one more appearance to make in Delray Beach: In doubles with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The duo won their first match, and will target the semis against No3 seeds Treat Huey and Max Mirnyi. It is a long-shot, but how good would it be to see Haas enjoy one last hurrah?