Rio Olympics Tennis Review del Potro’s Spirited Run Just What Tennis Needed

del Potro Rio

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Tennis at the Rio Olympics had the tennis world largely divided in the run up to the event. For some it was a glorified, pointless, literally so with the ATP not awarding any, exhibition that did not belong at the event. For others, it was, potentially, the biggest achievement of their career, an occasion where they could win for their country, and enjoy some team spirit. Thankfully, at Rio 2016, those who cared turned up, and while their best games may have left them by the medal matches, their hearts never left the court.

No points, no prize money, in an already busy Summer schedule, many tennis players and fans asked what the point was of competing in Rio. Even the ATP, who awarded 750 points to the 2012 London Gold medalist, did not give any this year after a disagreement with the ITF, rendering the tournament as good as an exho in the eyes of men’s tennis’ governing body. There was no prize money either, and a tennis career does not come cheap. Alongside the Zika virus and reports of a Rio unable to deal with the event, in an already crowded tennis Summer schedule, if you were going to skip an event, Rio was the one, and a host of players including John Isner, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, and Nick Kyrgios cited injury, ATP tour related priorities, and disagreement with both the inclusion of tennis in the Olympics itself or with their respective tennis federations as reasons for staying away.

For some players, Rio, however, was the one they needed to win in 2016, and, fortunately for men’s tennis fans, from the very first round, those who were in it to win it, showed just how deep they were ready to go. Juan Martin del Potro’s opening round defeat of Novak Djokovic will go down as one of the matches of the year, and the image of Novak Djokovic crying as he left the court may be more remembered than the one of him finally winning Roland Garros earlier on in the season.

Other moments will live on, too. Matches as competitive as Cilic-Monfils, Johnson-Murray, Monfils-Nishikori, Nishikori-Nadal, and del Potro-Nadal. The kind of matches you might be lucky to see in one ATP  tournament graced the Rio courts day in day out, providing a highly entertaining back story to the main tale- del Potro’s return to top flight tennis.

Del Potro’s run was just what tennis needed right now, an era of Djokovic dominance and few breakthroughs at the very top of the game. del Potro is one of the few players who unites tennis fan-bases, one of its few active slam champions, and the sight of him coming back from one surgery after another, and harnessing one of tennis’ greatest shots, that forehand, to defeat Djokovic, and then Nadal, in another classic, to make the final, was a reminder that raw talent and desire could overcome match fitness, and very nearly, three of four of tennis’ dominant pros.

Rio Olympics

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Much like the Olympics will end up overshadowing many ATP events this season, del Potro’s silver medal, which the Argentine said post-match was as good as gold for him, may shine, in some eyes, even brighter than Murray’s Gold.

At the very least, after the way del Potro and Murray both gave their all in a fight for Gold, both medals will carry the same weight when it comes to effort.

The match the two rivals contested, the love child of  a slam final and a deciding tie in a Davis Cup final, was worthy of any championship match any tennis organisation could come up with. Neither player, by that stage, could play to their full potential with the conditions so humid and the emotions running so high, but neither gave up, however much their legs wanted to, feeding off the crowd and their desire for the medal on the line.

What Murray and del Potro served up nourished tennis fan’s need to see a match played like either competitor would rather keel over than let a ball pass them by. All the way to deep in the fourth set, there was the feeling del Potro might find another wind and sail over the finishing line, and while Murray’s doggedness won out, this really was a match where both players, and ultimately tennis, won, and the lack of points and money made their achievements even more rewarding.

While del Potro would have been a more fitting Champion for an event played in the sporting world spotlight rewarding years of hard work behind the scenes yet relegated to a sideshow in men’s professional tennis itself- Murray, after all, is part of the pro tennis status quo for a good half decade now– the Argentine’s finish has nonetheless brought a tennis champion well and truly back to life, and with it, for the meantime, tennis, too.

The knock on effect of del Potro’s run will have many sports fans appreciating tennis for its Olympian values, ones at the heart of any sport, no matter how professional they have grown, and perhaps draw some new fans to the sport or turned casual ones into long-term. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Open, courtesy of Murray, Nadal and Djokovic spending all their energy in Rio,  could see the first non Big Four winner of an ATP 1000 title since 2014 Toronto, and a rested del Potro could make another spirited run at the US Open where he has been awarded a wild card. 

That del Potro Spirit, the one that drives his desire to overcome adversity as much as it does his forehand winners, that’s the kind of spirit tennis needs, and what the Olympics gave us- a spirit worth its weight  in whatever color medal you end up with. 

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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