Not prepared for life after tennis – Del Potro opens up about stepping away from the game

The former US Open champion has stepped away from the game to improve his day-to-day life but says the transition has not been easy for him

Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina greets the fans after his matcha at the Argentina Open Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina greets the fans after his matcha at the Argentina Open Image Credit: Zuma / Panoramic

Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has opened up about his struggles to transition away from tennis after deciding to step away from the sport due to his injury knee earlier this year.

The former world no 3, who turned 34 years old last week, played in the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires in early February, which was his first tournament since Queen’s Club in June 2019. The Argentine had said he wanted to focus on living without pain in his day-to-day life but did not completely close the door on a return to the sport either.

In an interview with La Nacion, Del Potro has now opened up about his struggles to adjusting to life without tennis, having devoted his life either to playing on the tour or rehabbing to becoming fit for a comeback to the game.

Del Potro : “I have no idea what other athletes did”

“In my case, I am not prepared for the day after (retirement). I don’t know what it is. I didn’t have a transition to the day after, I didn’t prepare for the day after, I have no idea what other athletes did in that whole process. I was No 3 in the world, a knee injury and this life. So [snap your fingers], in a second,” Del Potro said.

“And during all this time I tried to recover, as I did with any other injury: what is the treatment that needs to be done, so long, let’s do it, I play again. And in Buenos Aires I said, ‘Enough.’ And from Buenos Aires to this day I’m in that process of thinking about what life will be like without tennis definitely, what things I can like, I don’t know. When I talk to other athletes who are no longer active, they say, ‘Well, but it took me the last two years of my career, the last year, I prepared this way or another.’ I’m doing it now. I’m looking for things.”

Juan Martin Del Potro, 2015
Juan Martin Del Potro | © BPI / Panoramic

In the interview, Del Potro also provided an update of his current physical condition, saying he could still not run on a treadmill. “I walk, I walk, I don’t run on the treadmill, I can’t climb a ladder without pain. I already said earlier: to Tandil, which is four hours driving, I have to stop and stretch my legs. That’s my reality, which is hard, it’s sad, but I try not to stay with it and my new challenge is how to try to process everything, assimilate what touches me and how I get up every day to live as well as possible.”

Despite that, Del Potro said he still leaves the door open for tennis in the future. “”I’m going a few months ago, to the message I gave at the Buenos Aires tournament: first the quality of life, because I can’t stand the pain anymore, but this (tennis) I’m not going to close, I want to leave it open. Then, time and life will tell how it ends.”

Imagine what it’s like after every attempt at treatment or surgery the frustration I feel when it doesn’t work.

Juan Martin Del Potro

The Argentine continues to explore medical options to get his knee better but explains that the process has been a long frustrating one.

“I went to Switzerland to see another doctor. I started another treatment that I was recommended by many tennis players and I did not have a very positive result either. Imagine what it’s like after every attempt at treatment or surgery the frustration I feel when it doesn’t work. So, it is too much dreaming, too much faith and hope that one puts into something new and when it fails, the blow is hard.

“And for three and a half years, with surgeries and treatments, that always happened to me. So now, in the position I’m in, I have to learn that that blow isn’t so hard and try again. Going looking for opinions and treatments, being open to anything because, as I say: I’m not in a hurry to do something to go play Australia and I don’t have to do any crazy things. Simply, continue in that search to find the right treatment and live without pain and as best as possible.”

Juan Martin Del Potro, 2018
© Federico Pestellini / Panoramic

“He was always very kind to everyone, especially me” – Del Potro on Federer

In the interview which was conducted last week prior to the Laver Cup kicking off, Del Potro also spoke about the retirement of Roger Federer, the player he beat to win his lone Grand Slam title at the 2009 US Open.

“It (Federer’s retirement) meant a lot to me, to those of us who played alongside him and shared years on the circuit. He was the first of the Big 3, the one that marked the path to perfection, the one that raised the bar,” the Argentine said of his former rival

At Indian Wells in 2018, Juan Martin Del Potro won the first and only Masters 1000 of his career by defeating world number one Roger Federer in the final. The Swiss was then undefeated for 17 matches – © Chryslene Caillaud / Panoramic

“When he entered the locker room, everyone looked at him with admiration, with respect, with the desire to greet him. He was always very kind to everyone, especially me. I came to create a very warm relationship because of the matches played, because we shared events, because we were often alone in the final rounds in the changing rooms and we talked about football, other things, Argentina … He always showed interest and wanted to know other things than tennis and with those things I was forging the relationship that we could have all these years.”

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