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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday February 8, 2022

Juan Martin del Potro’s long awaited return to tennis was – as expected – a highly emotional affair. The Argentine, out of action since June 19, 2019 when he reinjured his right patella, has since went under the knife four times to get himself in good enough shape to play.

Tennis Express

But after the match, a 6-1, 6-3 loss at the hands of compatriot Federico Delbonis, Del Potro shared with the crowd that his career is likely over.

This comeback, as much as it pains the tennis world to hear, appears to be more of a farewell.

In tears Del Potro told the crowd that he would not travel next week to Rio, where he had taken a wild card, because he wants to stop his career and focus his energy on living his life pain-free again.

“Today is a full stop,” he said in Spanish. “Now I have to take care of my knee for my life, for day-to-day life. But I am going to leave the window open in tennis because what I experienced tonight is unforgettable. If today was my last game, I'm leaving happy.”

Though the 2009 US Open champion refuses to completely close the door on his illustrious career, he does seem to be warming to the idea that there isn’t enough left for him to get through the hurdles that lie ahead. With eight surgeries – four on his wrists and four on his right knee – behind him, and now at the age of 33, the former World No.3 is realizing that life after tennis may have arrived. And he wants to be able to sleep without pain to better enjoy it.

On Tuesday night a packed house of fans, including his mother and sister, were behind him at full throat, cheering him as he struggled through an ugly first set, then backing him more vociferously as he demonstrated some of his best tennis in the second set, before losing the final three games.

At times we saw the old Del Potro, his ferocious cuts at the ball and the keen consistency he can create even when hitting with monumental pace, even if the movement wasn't quite there.

But the most heartbreakingly beautiful moment came at the break before the final game, with Del Potro in tears as he prepared to serve.

Then there was the post-match interview which saw Del Potro tearing up and at a loss for words as he tried to make sense of the sadness he felt, but also the joy of playing in Argentina and experiencing the thrill of playing in front of his fans again.

"It's difficult to explain how I felt on the court. So many emotions," del Potro said after the match. "The atmosphere was crazy, the people were crazy, and I had one of my best ever matches in my career with the crowd."

It remains to be seen what will come next for Del Potro, but if this truly was the end of his career it should be seen as a triumph on every level. Not just his victories, but the manner in which he sacrificed everything to become the ATP’s comeback player of the year, not once but twice. A third ATP comeback player of the year award may never be in the cards, but Del Potro’s return – even if for one match – allows him to avoid his worst nightmare of having to say goodbye to the sport he loves via press conference.

Tonight was about Del Potro living his career on his terms, and though the scoreline said 6-1 6-3 Delbonis, it was clearly a triumph for the Tower of Tandil, cut from the same cloth of so many of the moments that moved us over the course of his career. 

Over the course of his career Del Potro's tennis was mind-blowing on its own, but it was his character, his humility and his ability to emote and bring out the emotions of his fans that truly set him apart. He was a truly unique and charismatic character, and he'll be sorely missed.


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