Murray celebrates finishing 2016 with 24 straight victories as World No. 1.
Picture this: it's 2016, and the Nitto ATP Finals have just concluded, with Andy Murray being crowned as the 2016 year-end world No. 1. It was safe to assume that he was at the top of his game. After all, he had just won the Olympic Gold medal in Rio, along with eight other titles that same year, including Wimbledon. However, what if I told you that he would only win two more titles in the next seven years? Not only that, having last been ranked in the top ten in late 2017, he is currently ranked 42nd – far from capable of competing at the top level. Surprising, isn't it? Well, it's the unfortunate truth. Due to a myriad of physical challenges, including two major hip injuries, he missed almost two full years of his prime. These injuries have taken a toll on his career, leaving him struggling to reclaim his former glory.
Now, let's go all the way back to 2009. Roger Federer is dominating the tennis world, with Rafael Nadal being the only one capable of challenging his reign at the top. We find ourselves at the U.S. Open, an event where Federer had won the previous five titles in a row. No one expected anything different this time around as Federer breezed through the field, reaching his sixth consecutive final. However, waiting for him in the finals was a young Argentinian with a formidable forehand and immense power. Juan Martin del Potro, a rising star, managed to defeat the world No. 1 in a thrilling five-set match, showing the world his true potential. But what happened next? Would it surprise you to learn that Del Potro never won another Grand Slam title? That he never reached the coveted No. 1 ranking? Unfortunately, that's precisely what happened to the beloved Argentinian. Injuries, particularly to his wrist, wreaked havoc on his once-promising career, turning it into a series of "what-ifs."
So, what would have happened if neither had gotten injured? Would they be in the GOAT conversation? How many Grand Slams did they miss out on? Today, I’ll be discussing the tragic careers of Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, and how injuries caused their careers to be drastically shortened. Since attempting to predict every individual event would be impossible, the focus will primarily be on major events.
Let's review Del Potro's career in order to provide clarity. After winning his first Grand Slam at the 2009 U.S. Open, Del Potro achieved a top five ranking and consistently performed well in subsequent tournaments. However, his momentum was halted at the 2009 Nitto ATP Finals when he faced Nikolay Davydenko and lost in straight sets. Despite this defeat, Del Potro entered the 2010 season with high hopes. Unfortunately, a second-match injury dashed his expectations, leading to a decline in his form. Consequently, he had to take a nine-month break to recover from his injury. Assuming he had remained healthy, it is reasonable to believe that Del Potro could have achieved significant accomplishments. With his recent victories over Rafael Nadal and the absence of notable players like Lleyton Hewitt and Stan Wawrinka, the 2010 Indian Wells tournament appeared favorable for Del Potro. Considering these factors, it is likely that he would have won his first Master's 1000 title at the 2010 Indian Wells tournament.
A few years later, after recovering from his initial major injury, Del Potro regained his top five form and had a successful 2014 season, winning 51 matches and losing only 16. However, he faced another severe wrist injury, causing him to miss a significant portion of both the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Without these injuries, it is plausible to speculate that Del Potro could have won the 2014 Australian Open and the 2015 BNP Paribas Masters (Paris Masters). These tournaments had relatively weak competition, as Stan Wawrinka had won the 2014 Australian Open and Novak Djokovic had triumphed at the 2015 Paris Masters. Del Potro had a positive 4-3 career record against Wawrinka, with three of his wins occurring just before the 2014 Australian Open. Considering this head-to-head record, Del Potro would have had a great chance of winning his second Grand Slam had he remained injury-free. Additionally, with the absence of Rafael Nadal at the 2015 Paris Masters, the tournament field would have been less challenging for Del Potro. Although Del Potro had a comparatively poor overall record of 4-16 against eventual champion Novak Djokovic, he had previously defeated Djokovic indoors. Therefore, it is quite possible that Del Potro could have emerged victorious at the 2015 Paris Masters.
If Del Potro had avoided his injuries and remained active, it is reasonable to believe that he could have added another Grand Slam title and two more Masters 1000 titles to his career achievements. It is unfortunate how Del Potro's career unfolded, as many fans miss his powerful flat forehand. There is a glimmer of hope that we might see him one last time at the 2023 U.S. Open, as he recently hinted at the possibility of a farewell return to the court – he wrote on Instagram that he would return at the U.S. Open if Argentina won the World Cup, which they did. While it would be difficult for Del Potro to become a close contender for the GOAT title, it is doubtless that his accomplishments would be far greater had he not been hurt.
Now, let's turn our attention to one of the most prominent British tennis players of the Open Era, Andy Murray. By 2016, Murray had already claimed three Grand Slam titles and attained the prestigious world No. 1 ranking. However, injuries to his hip in 2017 caused him to miss most of the 2017 to 2018 seasons. In contrast to Del Potro, I firmly believe that if Murray had remained healthy, he would still be a contender for Grand Slam titles today. Murray's play style is characterized by its completeness, with a strong emphasis on consistency and exceptional movement. These qualities provide a solid foundation for sustained success, in stark contrast to Del Potro's aggressive baseline play, which often resulted in fluctuations in his performance. Furthermore, unlike Del Potro, Murray was unable to return to the same level of play following his hip surgeries. This leads me to believe that Murray missed out on achieving even greater heights in his career if he had avoided those setbacks. What did he miss out on exactly?
I believe that if Murray had remained injury-free, he had the potential to win at least three more Grand Slam titles, as well as 5 more Masters. While he may not have excelled on clay, Murray's performance on grass and hard courts was exceptional. Notably, he had an impressive record against Rafael Nadal, even defeating him multiple times on clay during Nadal's peak. Additionally, Murray's career head-to-head against Roger Federer is close to 50 percent, and he achieved victories over Federer on multiple occasions, including during Federer's prime. Although his record against Novak Djokovic may not be as favorable, Murray still managed to defeat him multiple times in significant tournaments. These factors indicate that Murray was a close fourth contender alongside the "Big Three." I am not suggesting that he would surpass any of the three players, but rather that he would be part of the conversation for the GOAT, making it a "Big Four" discussion instead of the traditional Big Three. All in all, it’s sad how Murray’s career turned out, as he missed out on a lot. All things considered, it is indeed disheartening to see how Murray's career unfolded, as he missed out on many opportunities and potential achievements due to his injuries.
In conclusion, the careers of Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro were marred by unfortunate injuries, preventing both of them from reaching their full potential in the world of tennis. Both players had shown immense talent and achieved significant milestones before their setbacks. Del Potro's powerful game and expectations for Grand Slam success were cut short by wrist injuries, while Murray's well-rounded athleticism and consistent performance were overshadowed by a debilitating hip injury. If not for these injuries, Del Potro could have added more Grand Slam and Masters titles to his name, while Murray had the potential to claim additional Grand Slam victories and establish himself as part of the "Big Four" in the GOAT conversation. It is a testament to their abilities and resilience that they were able to achieve what they did despite the setbacks they faced. However, it remains a somber reality that injuries deprived these two remarkable players from further success in their careers.