RIO DE JANEIRO -- He's back. He's back among the greats. Six months after his return to the circuit, Juan Martin del Potro reminded everyone in Rio de Janeiro that he belongs among the very best.
The former world No. 4 and 2009 US Open winner made it clear that after several wrist surgeries he belongs in the top 10 when healthy. He managed to defeat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the Rio Olympics, becoming the only Argentine tennis player to win two Olympic medals.
One month before turning 28, the extremely powerful "Tower of Tandil" made the podium once again in his second Olympic appearance. He took the bronze medal in London 2012, and this time, he won silver, stopped only by Andy Murray in the final match.
Gabriela Sabatini was the first of Argentina's tennis players to step on an Olympic podium; her silver was followed by three bronze medals by the country (Javier Frana and Christian Miniussi in doubles at Barcelona in 1992 and then by Paola Suarez and Patricia Tarabini in doubles at Athens in 2004).
To the surprise of almost everyone, del Potro reached his 26th final in a tournament where he drew a tough opening match against Djokovic. Del Potro later showed authority and character in overcoming Nadal in the semifinals. Del Potro has been back for six months, and he's already challenging the tennis elite.
With his massive serve and forehand, plus a backhand that is slowly starting to regain strength, del Potro showed great mental strength to prevail in the most challenging circumstances. This was his first final in 2½ years (Sydney, 2014).
Del Potro is now a seasoned player, hardened by the impact of his four wrist surgeries and the threat of early retirement. He's mature enough to fully appreciate the Olympic environment. He's no longer that kid who surprised the world by defeating the very best to win the US Open. He's now showed another side of his personality by sharing celebrations with his fans, and even embracing some of them as he did after beating Nadal on Saturday.
It became increasingly clear that del Potro's No. 141 ranking is a poor indication of his ability. It's a shame, really, that the Olympics don't give ranking points, because with his great performance, he could have made up a lot of ground.
But if he goes on playing like this, del Potro will soon improve his ranking. He will, because he is one of the greats, and not just physically. It was not by chance that he crushed Nadal in the 2009 US Open semifinals and then overcame Roger Federer to win his only Grand Slam final two days later.
It's not by some quirk of fate that del Potro has managed 37 wins against top 10 contenders. Before Djokovic and Nadal in Rio, del Potro took out Stan Wawrinka, the world No. 5, at Wimbledon. This explains why del Potro is so greatly respected by all his rivals.
A month ago, del Potro returned to Davis Cup -- after almost four years -- to provide a key point in doubles. There's a big semifinal coming in Glasgow a month from now against Murray's Great Britain team, the reigning Davis Cup champions. So del Potro's performance in Rio was crucial toward building up his confidence.
"I'm living a dream once again," del Potro said in Rio on Sunday.
And what he did was the stuff of dreams. He was awarded a silver medal, but his achievements were truly golden.