Del Potro continues to be limited by wrist injuries

Argentine makes first-round exit after hurting his left wrist but says he is getting right help and remains positive. Gary Meenaghan reports from Dubai.

Juan Martin Del Potro, leaving the court in Dubai on Tuesday, has struggled with wrist injuries for a long time. Faisal Al Nasser / Reuters
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DUBAI // There once lived an enormous elephant who was so strong and dominant that he ruled the animal kingdom. Few creatures could threaten the elephant’s command and fewer expected him to surrender his superiority. It appeared inevitable that the elephant would rule the kingdom for many years.

One day, while plodding without purpose around a sun-scorched field of grass, the elephant let out an almighty, trumpeted howl. He had stood on a thorn with all his weight and was in immense pain each time he put his colossal weight on the foot. Within weeks, as he hobbled around uncertainly, the other animals sensed his fragility and took command of the kingdom.

It was only when a tiny field mouse came along and offered to extract the thorn that the elephant could finally consider returning to his authoritative ways.

Juan Martin del Potro could be that elephant and, after withdrawing from Tuesday’s ATP Dubai Duty Free World Tennis Championships because of a recurring wrist injury, he hopes his mouse lives in Minnesota.

Del Potro, the 1.98-metre Argentine with the Herculean and hirsute body, won the US Open in 2009 and was at a career high world number four a few months later when he injured his right wrist. The problem required surgery that ruled him out for nine months.

When he returned in 2011, he failed to progress past the fourth round of any of the four grand slam tournaments, but over the next two years he steadily climbed back up the rankings, winning four titles and progressing deeper into the slam tournaments. He reached three quarter-finals in 2012 and went one round better to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year.

Slowly, the elephant was reasserting his authority over his kingdom. But then the thorn returned.

At last month’s Australian Open, after slipping out in the second round, Del Potro required treatment for his left wrist, which had proved problematic since 2012 and required injections at the 2013 US Open. He arrived in Dubai this week noting that he was “still not fully confident to hit my backhand 100 per cent“ while acknowledging that “I feel this pain sometimes when I hit my backhand and it is hard to get it out of my mind”.

The medical advice was that Del Potro was fine to play Somdev Devvarman in Tuesday’s first round at the Aviation Club. That advice appears to have been wrong. After losing an opening set tiebreaker, the Argentine retired in what appeared to be great pain and went straight for treatment. Returning to speak with media “out of respect”, he said gravely that the wrist was “hurting a lot and everybody knows what’s happened to me four years ago with my other wrist”.

Visibly deflated, but wearing nothing but a wristwatch on the injured joint, he said: “It’s hurting all the time, sometimes less and sometimes more. I’ve been in contact with my doctor all the time. He’s trying to keep me motivated to keep playing, but I know my limit and today was enough.”

Against Devvarman, Del Potro looked shackled, hitting only his forehand and serve with any power. When the ball required a backhand, as it increasingly did once Devvarman spotted his opponent’s discomfort, Del Potro sliced it every time.

“I tried everything, but it’s very difficult playing in these conditions,” he said. “When I can only play slices, I cannot be the player I would like to be.”

Del Potro will make his way to the United States where he is to play Indian Wells from March 6. Before that he will visit his Minnesotan mouse, Dr Richard Berger of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Berger is the hand surgeon who operated on his right wrist.

The world number five stopped short of saying surgery is certain and refused to consider his season could be over, but his dispirited demeanour belied his words.

“I cannot say that yet, but I’m feeling similar pains in the other hand to what I felt four years ago,” Del Potro said. “It’s not positive for my future, but the good thing is the doctor is still confident with himself. I believe in him and I will do what he says. I have to be as strong as ever.”

He has to be strong as an elephant and hope the mouse can help.

Additional reporting from John McAuley.

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