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Del Potro overcomes lingering doubts

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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla.

Nothing like a blazing afternoon of Florida sunshine to banish the last dark doubts that Juan Martin del Potro had been harboring since he underwent wrist surgery last year.

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It takes time to recover after being forced out of the game for 10 months — especially so soon after scaling the heights with a U.S. Open triumph, as he did in 2009 — but del Potro has put all that behind him now with this 6-4, 6-4 victory on Sunday over Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic.

The Delray Beach International might not be the U.S. Open, but tennis is a mind game and winning a title — anytime, anywhere — fuels the confidence that every player needs to go on to greater things. Del Potro had lost in successive semifinals at San Jose and Memphis and, at 1-4 in the first set Sunday with his forehand flying all over the place, the doubts lingered.

When he went 0-15 down in the next game with a terrible slap at a short ball which ended in the net, it seemed that del Potro was still struggling to come to terms with the first daylight match he had played all week. Sniffing blood and boosted by a small, but shriekingly vocal group of fellow Serbs, Tipsarevic felt that he had another chance to break. But, after getting his opponent to deuce, the Serb could do nothing about the two big serves that got del Potro out of trouble.

In the next game, Tipsarevic proved that even bright guys can make stupid decisions when he tried a drop shot that del Potro thumped away for a winner. A couple of more errors and his break advantage was gone.

“I am not just disappointed that I lost, but the way in which I lost,” Tipsarevic said in a moment of self-analysis. “I really didn’t use my chance. I made one break point out of 11. That is unacceptable. My problem was that I couldn’t find the middle way. I was hitting either too weak or too strong. My plan was to move him and I did that well in the beginning, but then I started going for too much or not enough. It was a dumb way to play.”

Tipsarevic may have helped Serbia win the Davis Cup last year, but he has yet to land an ATP title. Yet he insisted that he was not thinking about that as he went into his third final.

“I had quite enough to think about playing someone like del Potro,” he said. “He is a top player, and against those guys you just have to take your chances. I could see he was not playing his game at the beginning, and I felt I could have broken again at 4-1. I just didn’t execute well enough today.”

Del Potro, a quiet, unassuming young man, readily agreed that he had not played at his best.

“But you have to find a way to win,” he said. “Then afterwards you can talk about whether you played good or bad. I just tried to focus on my serve, and then I got just a couple of chances and I took them. That was the difference.”

Del Potro said he is going to take some much needed days off in South Florida before deciding whether to play the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells, Calif., which starts March 10.

“I have played a lot of matches in three weeks, and I need time,” he said. “I’m not in a hurry. I am feeling calm about my progress, but I need maybe 20 more matches before I can really compete with top-10 players.”

In the meantime, he is just happy to have won.

“I feel kind of strange, actually,” he said. “Three months ago, I was worrying about just playing a tournament and now I have won one. But I’m glad. It feels good.”

NOTE: A total of 63,251 people attended the Delray Beach International – a tournament record.

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