Juan Martin del Potro has taken the first steps towards regaining his place in the top five of tennis rankings.
Juan Martin Del Potro has started his comeback trail in style
Juan Martin del Potro is back. But, by his own admission, not yet all the way back.
"It was my goal to be No 1 two years ago, but I don't know if I can put that as my goal again," the tall Argentine said after winning the Delray Beach International in Florida on Sunday.
He surprised himself over the past three weeks with semi-final pushes at events at San Jose and Memphis, followed by his 6-4, 6-4 victory over Janko Tipsarevic in the Delray final - his first championship since the 2009 US Open.
"It's amazing to me, this comeback," he said. When 2011 began, he said his goal was to be healthy enough to play, not to win. He spoke of needing four to six months to "play really good tennis again".
Del Potro was the hot new thing at the end of 2009. The South American with the vicious forehand had won three championships that year, the US Open the most memorable. He defeated Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals and Roger Federer in the final at Flushing Meadows to become the first player to beat both of them in one grand slam.
In early January 2010, he rose to No 4 in the world and was the youngest player in the top 10, at age 21. He certainly was part of the "next generation" discussion along with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Then came the wrist injury. He went on the shelf after the Australian Open amid rumours out of Argentina that a young man often described as "shy" was suffering from panic attacks.
He had surgery in May and had not played in eight months by the time he came back for a pair of first-round exits, and that was his season. He ended it ranked No 283. Now he is back up to No 89.
Mardy Fish, the American who lost to Del Potro in the semi-finals last week, described the difficulties of facing the Argentine, who stands 1.98m.
"He plays even taller than he is," said Fish. "He has long arms and it feels that any penetrating ball I hit is still in his strike zone. I've got to almost shank a ball almost over his head to get it out of his strike zone … and pretty much any ball on his forehand is a deadly shot."
Del Potro cautioned that his comeback is a work in progress. "I don't know if I'm ready to fight with top-10 players, but I'm working very hard and hope to do it soon. I need 20 to 25 matches before I'll really be ready to play with them, but it's coming soon."
He added: "I feel kind of strange, actually. Three months ago, I was worrying about just playing a tournament and now I have won one. But I'm glad. It feels good."
His immediate concern is resting after three hard weeks. For now, he is happy to be playing well; a renewed push for the top can come later.