Del Potro Happy To Rediscover Top Form
Argentine discusses his 2018 campaign, injury comeback and a coaching change
From his vantage point, del Potro could view the practice matches taking place down below. The likes of past winners Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya, David Ferrer and Sam Querrey were on court. The Pacific Ocean was also in sight. The view of Acapulco was captivating, but del Potro still made time to answer media questions, including those from ATPWorldTour.com.
How are you feeling this week in Acapulco?
I'm happy to be back here to Acapulco. I said after losing to (Novak) Djokovic last year that I wanted to play here again and that I wanted to have a good time. The fans treat me very well here; they show me a lot of affection. I have a good connection with the Mexican fans and honestly, I'm fond of when this time of the year comes around.
Your road to the Acapulco title doesn't look easy.
That's true, but I come to play hardball at every event I play. There were some big names competing for the title last year (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, winner Sam Querrey). I'm here to do my best. I felt last year was up for grabs, so let's see what happens this year. I'm ready to improve on last year's result (l. Djokovic).
For the first time in five years, you kicked off your season opener in January. How is your body reacting to that?
It's been a long time since I started a regular season so early, that's for sure. Now it's about raising my level, but that doesn't bother me. It's a long year and at this stage, I'm putting my health before everything else, including how I feel physically. Then from there, I'll enjoy my time on the court. I'm just happy to be playing because I was almost at the point where I wasn't going to be able to compete. I'm just happy to be competing in Acapulco.
How would you rate your health status at this time?
I'm not even sure. I know I still can improve. It's weighing on me already this season but I know that I tend to raise my game as the year goes on. That's been my thing, so I'm not concerned at the moment.
What's it like to start the year with a new coach?
It gives me peace of mind to know someone is looking out for me. That helps me on and off the court. I started working with (Sebastian Prieto) at the US Open. It's been less than 10 tournaments that we've been together but already my ranking has climbed. I've paid my dues, but I owe a lot to him for moving up in the rankings. He's great, not just on a professional level but also as a comrade.
How do you plan to evolve, without taking steps back or doing something that might be detrimental to your health?
Good question. My way of playing has changed, the way I view points and look for different openings, certain opportunities. It would have been easy to throw up my arms and say "I give up, I'm done with this." Instead, I sacrificed a lot to get to where I am today. I've achieved a whole lot since 2016, when I returned. I'm back in the Top 10 and that trumps everything bad that's happened. It turned the negatives into positives. Not a lot of players have been able to do what I did in terms of a turnaround.
What other high points have you had since your return?
The week of Olympic Games in Rio (in 2016); that was something unmatched for a lot of reasons. Last year at the US Open was also very exciting. All are moments that mean a lot to me.
How did it feel to return to the semi-finals of a major (US Open 2017) for the first time in four years?
That was amazing. Grand Slams are still the high points of this sport; they transcend your personal and professional life. You win one major event and you're in the books. I'm just so lucky to have won my favorite Grand Slam, the one I admired most since I was a kid. I was just 20 year old when I won at the US Open. No one can ever take that from me and I'm so proud of that.
What are you doing to avoid recurring injuries?
I'm going extra lengths to take care of myself these days. I'm traveling with a physiotherapist and I'm especially looking out for my wrists. My wrists have given me the most problems over the years. I'm doing a lot of preventive and recovery treatment. I know that if I can stay healthy, I can extend my career.
Is it possible to not be prone to injuries?
It isn't easy, but I take the steps that are necessary. I demand a lot from myself but the human body can only take so much. This is one of only a few sports where you play day in, day out, and the intensity is high. The further you advance in a tournament, the more you have to raise your game on a lot of levels. After a while, your body feels it and reacts. I realise now how important it is to put your health above everything else.
What are your thoughts on the success of 30-year-old-and-over players achieving success like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, considering you turn 30 in September?
Their physical attributes are admirable but so is their desire to win. Everyone's body and everyone's mind is different. I started playing at a very young age and I've been at this game for a long time. I'm not 30 but my body feels like it is. I've been through a lot of operating procedures, many surgeries; my career hasn't been your typical one. But as long as my body holds up and I still have the drive, I'm going to keep playing and I'll do so happily.
What does it mean celebrate the 10-year anniversary of your first ATP World Tour title, and the fact that you remain among the sport's elite?
It means so much. I noticed that, with each of my first four titles on the Tour, I was maturing. I was evolving and establishing my position as one of the best. That was a while back, I get that. Ten years on and to be in the Top 10, though? This is something wonderful, something spectacular.