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LaRosa's Sweet Spot:Sep 22, 2010

9/22/2010 3:00:00 PM

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“Estoy feliz de poder decirles: VUELVO A JUGAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Sera en el torneo de BANGKOK el lunes que viene. Muchas Gracias por todo !”

This is mere hours ago from Juan Martin del Potro, via Twitter.  Loosely translated, it says I’M BACK SUCKAS!!! WHAT’S MY NAME, WHAT’S MY NAME??

Oh yeah.  In a matter of days, after 8 months away, the one and only Delpo is returning to the tour.

I know.

What a long and windy road it’s been.  I mean, here was a dude who, the last time he played uninjured, followed up a dismantling of a hobbled Rafael Nadal in the ’09 US Open semis with a monster upset of Roger Federer in the final, a match which ranked among the very best of the year. He was hailed as not only the one to watch in 2010, but (thanks Sports Illustrated) the player who would dominate the next decade.

And then all hell broke loose.  He limped toward the end of the season, fighting his way through wrist pain, until finally he had no choice but to take a break after the Australian Open. That break turned into surgery that sidelined him through the French, Wimbledon and (most painfully of all) the US Open.

Guess who's back?

But it wasn’t that simple, was it?  Amidst a sea of silence from Camp Delpo, which resembled Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (nobody ever goes in, nobody ever comes out), the media reported all kinds of secondhand stories, from nervous breakdowns and panic attacks to injury setbacks and depression.  And it all seemed to come from some super-mouthy source inside Del Potro’s “inner circle”. Fans could only read this, openly weep and pray for JMdP’s soul.  God bless Juan Martin, who hopped on Twitter to put what rumors he could wrangle to rest.  But even then, fans were constantly kept waiting until the final, agonizing moments – as was Delpo himself - to learn if he’d play a particular event.  There was that fantastically unnecessary11th-hour US Open tease where even Del Potro’s agent seemed to be at odds with his client over whether or not he’d be able to defend his title, the vague questions about Davis Cup which everyone knew Delpo was dying to play, and finally the constant back and forth about if he’d make it to Bangkok.  It was enough to send a diehard off a bridge, climb back up and then jump off again. Then climb and jump one more time just to make sure the job was done.

And now he’s back!  Bangkok or bust! 

But what to do with all these emotions that have been whipped up into a frothy mess?

Rather than advise you to take up metalwork or (shudder) join a gym, we’re going to get through this together by keeping a few of the following things in mind:

1. This isn’t the Delpo you knew. At least it won’t be right away.  This is a guy who spent the better part of the year without a wrist. And when he had a wrist, it hurt like hell. So his instinct won’t be to swing away and create that sound – that sound! – of thunder as he strikes that patented forehand. He’s going to be cautious. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s not going to look like he can dominate your grandma, much less the next decade. So CHILLAX. And accept that:

2. He’s going to lose. Most likely to a scrub. He may clear his first round decisively, because even with one arm he’s better than his current No 35 ranking. But someone is going to benefit from facing JMdP at this point in his career. And even they will know it was their lucky day, so don’t hate them if they’re the one who gets to pull the trigger. And don’t let anyone tell you, pfft, that guy will never be the same. They’re idiots. The important thing right now is:

3. The true sign of a successful comeback will not be a big result, it will be completing a match. And without pain.  Anything more than that is gravy. Don’t get me wrong, bring on the gravy (in this case that would be an epic clash with Rafael Nadal in the Bangkok final), but if Juan Martin loses a hard-fought three-setter against Viktor Troicki and manages to shake his hand afterwards without it falling off, Mission Accomplished. At this point, it’s all about:

4. Patience! And this one is for Juan Martin more than anyone.  Delpo, everyone knows you’re an elite player. If you’re healthy, you’ll return to where you belong.  And we’ll be hearing that glorious thunderous crack of your racquet again. If it takes a little bit, hang in there. Don’t push yourself, because we can’t afford to lose you for another year. Do your best, but protect your assets. We know you want to race out there and play play play, but don’t break the merchandise. It’s too valuable.  Go out there and have fun. The rest will come.

Finally, 5.: Don’t worry about what fans are saying. We’ve stuck together for 8 long months, we’re not going anywhere now. Especially when it’s about to get good.

I think I speak for everyone when I say, Welcome back Juan Martin. We’ve missed you.

Now go out there and kick some ass.

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Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.