He is big. Really big. And not only because of his slender 6-foot-6 frame. Juan Martin del Potro is one of the most admired, loved and respected Argentine and Latin American athletes. At 29, the former 2009 US Open champion is the No. 6 player in the world. He draws attention wherever he goes. It's just who he is.
After so many wrist operations, the Tower of Tandil is enjoying his second life in tennis. This after he acknowledged not so long ago he came "very close to retiring." Two years ago was a pivotal time in his professional career, one that changed his outlook in his future: the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Del Potro defeated then-world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the opening round. From there, he started loosening up and celebrating with his Argentine fans, many of whom had criticized him for dropping out of some Davis Cups in the past. Del Potro later defeated Rafael Nadal in the Rio semifinals before eventually falling to Andy Murray in the final to win the silver medal -- one that felt like gold. It was a medal that seemed an impossible feat just a few days before.
Del Potro's image soared. After all the comings and goings in Davis Cup, his Olympic adventure turned him into an idol in the eyes of many people who hadn't held him in such a standard until then. Especially in Argentina, where even Lionel Messi is criticized by some sceptics, branded as half-hearted for losing finals with his national team. Del Potro was targeted for the same reason, but not by those who really appreciate his tennis and understand the effort and the sacrifices it takes to be up there with the very best.
And wouldn't you know -- a few months later, he was a salient part of Argentina's first and only Davis Cup title, something that neither Guillermo Vilas nor Jose Luis Clerc had been able to achieve. This feat gave del Potro another thrust of glory and boosted him into the select group of the greatest Argentine athletes of all time.
Since then, with a stoic aura after so many trips to the operating theater and tremendous efforts to reclaim his greatness, he managed to raise his stature on a global scale. His popularity grew in his homeland, and in a big way, even when he decided he did not want to play Davis Cup the following year. Whether you like his personality, his playing style or his decisions, his quality and international standard are no longer in question.
For many, del Potro is a role model. And why not? He nearly lost his career, came back and is now one of the best players in the world. Look no further than his title at Indian Wells, where he beat Roger Federer in an enthralling final, one that ended in a third-set tiebreaker.
Del Potro is highly sought-after by sponsors, and tournament and exhibitions organizers always want to have him on their entry lists. It is not by chance that he's sponsored by brands such as Wilson, Nike, Rolex and Peugeot -- as well as Argentina's San Cristobal.
Chris Jackman, del Potro's personal agent assigned by TEAM8, the agency created by Roger Federer and his manager, Tony Godsick, said del Potro is one of the most attractive athletes for top companies and for the public. There's no doubt Federer and Nadal, who lead the rankings, are high up there, but Delpo's agent considers his client's image to be higher than those of Djokovic and Murray.
Del Potro greatness and popularity are no longer under discussion.