Changing My Mind
When I first set kind eyes on Juan Martin del Potro he was at the US Open playing Gilles Simon in a third round match. I’d heard of and even seen some of his 21 match winning streak before that day, and I’d been skeptical like many other fans who come across a young upstart, determined to shake up the then rock-solid top ten. I wasn’t sure he was in it for the long-run, and I didn’t know if he was cocky, intelligent, or if he truly loved tennis. Watching him play against Simon that day – a match del Potro won in five sets- I got some of my answers. I rooted against him that match, but it was one of the last times I would. From then on, the lumbering Argentine sat firmly in my heart. He may have lagged behind Roger Federer and Ernests Gulbis on my personal list of favourite tennis players, but the seed had been sown and it could only grow.
I saw del Potro for the first time live in 2009, when he visited Auckland for the first and probably last time. He took out my second favourite in the first round and in my heart. Del Potro was my new number two and I spent the year supporting him. When he made the final of the 2009 US Open I found myself torn for the first time; here was my new love, a 21-year-old giant with a game to match, versus the man who made me love tennis, newly crowned French Open champion Roger Federer. I guess I tilted towards Federer back then, but when del Potro took his first Grand Slam, it wasn’t for Federer I felt. Del Potro had me head over heels, and by willing myself to forget his vanquished opponent, I couldn’t have been happier for him.
Fast forward a year and frustration, tears, fear, and anxiety have been the most common words used to describe del Potro fans – and del Potro – throughout the eight months the Argentine was sidelined with a wrist injury. On his return to the tour we’ve been blown away with a comeback that has seen him rise to 51 in the world and look more and more like his 2009 self each day. The more I see him come back, the more I want him to win. It is del Potro I find myself getting butterflies for. It is del Potro for whom my 2am alarm bell tolls, del Potro whose draws I show interest in, and del Potro who seems to be my number one.
Reading a post by Peter Bodo today it struck me why this may be. It isn’t necessarily that Federer or del Potro have changed, it is more likely I am the one who changed. Tennis fans, Bodo let us know, are conditioned to move on. With Federer nearing the end of his career, and del Potro starting a second one, it seems I’ve done just that. Still, I know there is no one I will ever stress, cry, or fret over more than Federer again, because I haven’t just changed my number one, I’ve changed as a fan. I’m not that 17-year-old girl anymore for whom Federer’s wins are everything. I’m 23 and taking myself and tennis a little more seriously but less obsessively. As I try to make it into the world of sports, journalism, and writing, I’m aware I need to be less of a fan of players, and more of a fan of the game. Still, even the best journalists have their favourites and I’ll allow myself mine too. Del Potro, Federer, and Gulbis. Order subject to change.