Novak Djokovic won the Davis Cup with Serbia in 2010, and went on to dominate the men’s game in 2011- becoming world number one for the first time in his career.
Andy Murray spearheaded Great Britain’s charge towards Davis Cup glory in 2015, and went on to have a career-best season in 2016- and like Djokovic; he became number one in the world the year after his Davis Cup heroics.
Argentina won the Davis Cup in 2016. Can Juan Martin del Potro follow the lead of Djokovic and Murray; and back up his miraculous feats in Glasgow and Zagreb with a career-best season in 2017?
The Davis Cup-Number One theory doesn’t always work, of course, but there is something about success in tennis’ premier team competition that can inspire the best players in the world to even greater heights.
It is perhaps the joy of doing it for your country, the rare opportunity to shoulder the responsibility for your country, in a sport where the primary focus is almost always on the individual rather than his nationality.
It would be totally unfair on the rest of the Argentine team to pin the South Americans' success solely on del Potro’s efforts- Federico Delbonis produced the match of his life to take down Ivo Karlovic in the decisive fifth rubber against Croatia- but the Tower of Tandil was the cornerstone of Argentina’s legendary fight-back in the final.
Del Potro had to deliver for this team if they were to have a realistic chance of winning.
He took care of business fairly easily against Ivo Karlovic on the first day in Zagreb, and with Argentina trailing 2-1 on the final day, and on the verge of more misery in the competition, del Potro roared back from two sets down to beat Marin Cilic and ignite one of the most famous comebacks in Davis Cup history.
After leading the fight-back, del Potro was fighting back the tears as he spoke to the media.
It is because of moments like this that he kept the faith, and kept the belief that he would play tennis again despite undergoing multiple wrist surgeries.
For the first time in three years, del Potro played more than 10 matches in a season, emerging victorious in 32 of his 43 matches. In 2015, he won just 2 of 4 matches before being cut down by injuries; and in 2014, he fared slightly better, winning 7 of 10 matches.
Now that he has managed to string together a run of matches, and wins over a relative lengthy period of time without any major issues, the next phase will be to re-establish himself as a genuine contender, rather than a dark horse or a dangerous floater in the big tournaments- the Grand Slams, to be specific.
Del Potro beat a number of high-profile players in his 2016 comeback- Stan Wawrinka at Wimbledon; Andy Murray and Marin Cilic in the Davis Cup; Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the Olympics- the former US Open champion has still got the game to beat the sport’s elite.
The forehand remains a match-winner, and while the backhand may be compromised, he has managed it pretty well with the slice.
You cannot beat Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka- guys with some of the most fearsome backhands in the business- if your backhand is not doing a job.
Del Potro missed nine consecutive majors between 2014 and 2016, but he made a return at Wimbledon- beating Wawrinka on his way to the third round. He improved on that with a quarter-final finish at the US Open (where he lost to Wawrinka). Those improvements should continue in 2017.
Del Potro has made the semi-finals or better in three of the four Grand Slams, with the Australian Open being the only exception.
2017 could be the year when Juan Martin del Potro makes his move in Melbourne.