Juan Martin Del Potro is a better tennis player than Andy Murray; that’s something I firmly believe.
But when I say that, I don’t mean it in terms of ranking, average ranking over a certain frame, or title counts. I mean it in terms of who has the highest level of play between the two when each player plays their best. Murray is definitely better built for the wear-and-tear of the ATP Tour schedule, however, del Potro’s summer-of-2009 form is a place where Murray’s tennis has never gone and probably never will.
Back in the summer of 2009, the ATP Tour was actually a lot more deeper in talent than it is today. At that time, Federer was still the World No. 1; Nadal would regain that lofty height, and Djokovic was about a year and a bit away from becoming the player we know him to be now.
But furthermore, back in the summer of 2009, Andy Roddick was still a major force, Nikolay Davydenko was about to start whipping everyone for a little while, and Robin Soderling was making his move to the top four. In fact, the tour was so loaded at that time that dynamite players like Fernando Gonzalez, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Marin Cilic, David Ferrer, and Stan Wawrinka were relegated to spots outside the top ten. These are all players whose highest-level tennis, in my opinion, is higher than that of current top tenners such as Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.
It was in this intensely talent-deep time frame that a 20-year-old del Potro won ATP Washington and the US Open. In the latter, Del Potro took out Rafael Nadal in the tournament’s semifinals in straight sets before defeating Roger Federer in the final in five sets. It was the victory over Federer that made the Argentine world famous as it was taken for granted that Federer would win. Del Potro would also make the ATP World Tour Finals championship match that season before well-discussed injuries started to affect his career in early 2010.
In comparison, Murray, when he was 20 and a little older, was practically hopeless when it came to beating Federer in a major. The Scot, early in his career, was hyped as the end of Federer on the hard-court surface. However, in the final of the 2008 US Open Murray was no match for Federer. A few month’s after del Potro beat Fed in New York, Fed was still waxing nervous Andy Murray in the majors as the Scot was no contest in the 2010 Melbourne Park final either.
It took Murray until 2012 before he started winning majors and he now has three. However, with the superior talent level from times now in the past, the level of tennis that was required to win the 2009 US Open was much higher than the level of tennis that was required to win the three majors Murray has won. All Slams aren’t equal and it took something more special to win in the latter parts of the last decade than it has since.
The Rio gold-medal final features Juan Martin del Potro, one of the lost superstars of the last decade trying to re-carve his name into the history books after so many surgeries. Right now all we know is that Del Potro is good enough to win at least an Olympic silver medal through a tough draw that has included Djokovic and Nadal so far. Whether the Argentine is good enough, at the moment, for the gold medal is to be determined on Sunday against Murray.
But personally, I can’t help but doubt the Argentine – not for reasons of talent, but for reasons of stamina. I have no doubt that Del Potro’s best tennis is better than Murray’s, however I also have no doubt that Murray’s stamina is better than the Argentine’s is. Even at the 2009 US Open, the final was pushed back a day due to rain. That was a huge edge for Delpo as he is a player that has less in reserves late tournament than others. I’ve wondered at times if the rain delay was instrumental in Del Potro winning the title.
On that note a rain delay in Rio would be a godsend for del Potro. Murray cruised through the semifinals while the Argentine labored for hours. Consequently, I don’t think he can get to the level that he needs to get to in order to beat Murray, someone that is not so nervous in big matches anymore. For that reason, you really like to have the Scot’s chances of winning gold again, having already done so at London 2012. More pure talent or not, late-tournament success is a war of attrition and it’s perfectly clear that Murray is the man for that.