Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The player who has me the most excited in looking toward next year is ... (drum roll) Juan Martin del Potro.
I believe the big Argentine is officially ready to make his move into a new "Big Four."
"Delpo" has been surging down the stretch in this 2013 season, one in which he's racked up four titles and a pair of runner-up finishes. That's six finals altogether.
His latest title came last week in Switzerland, where, for the second year in a row, the Tandil native handled Swiss icon Roger Federer in the final at the Swiss Indoors in Basel -- Federer's hometown.
Of course, del Potro's biggest-ever victory over Federer came at the 2009 U.S. Open, where the 6-foot-6, 215-pound South American star overcame a then-world No. 1 Fed in a classic five-set final in New York, which halted Federer's remarkable run in Flushing at five titles.
Fed hasn't returned to the Open final since.
For his career, del Potro owns 17 titles in 24 ATP World Tour finals, including trips into finals in his last three tournaments heading into this week -- two of which resulted in championships. The imposing Argentine straight-setted rising Canadian strongman Milos Raonic in an all-power title tilt in Tokyo earlier this month before outlasting Federer in three sets in Basel last week. And Delpo lost to former world No. 1 star Novak Djokovic in a marquee Masters 1000 finale in Shanghai three weeks ago.
Del Potro, he of the thunderous ground strokes, has himself up to No. 5 in the latest world rankings and is part of the field at this week Paris Masters as he prepares himself for next week's star-laden season-ending World Tour Finals in London, where he was a runner-up four years ago.
The still-only 25-year-old Delpo has fared well against the current "Big Four" this year, with the exception of Djokovic, going 1-1 against current world No. 1 and reigning U.S. and French Open champion Rafael Nadal; 1-3 versus the reigning Australian Open titlist Djokovic; 1-0 against Wimbledon champ Andy Murray; and 1-0 versus the 17-time Grand Slam king Federer. That's 4-4 against the game's very best, and 3-1 if you exclude Djokovic (which, I guess, we can't do here).
The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist reached a career-high ranking of No. 4 back in 2010, and I'm certain he's going to reach at least that in the very near future. The formidable Argentine has reached at least the semifinals at three of the four Grand Slams in his career, including his U.S. Open win four years ago and his first-ever trip into the final four at Wimbledon this past summer, where he lost to Djokovic in perhaps the "Match of the Year," a historic five- set epic that wound up being the longest-ever semifinal at the All England Club -- 4 hours, 43 minutes.
The gutsy del Potro, however, rebounded from that gut-wrenching loss to Djokovic to capture his next event just a few weeks later at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
Surprisingly, Delpo failed to get past the third round at three of the four majors this year, as he bowed out in the third round at the Aussie, skipped the French because of an injury, and was stunned by aging former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the second round at America's Open.
But after crunching all the numbers, I see del Potro taking that next step next year to turn the Big Four into an exclusive club that includes him in 2014. The latest ATP statistics show that Delpo ranks inside the top 10 in percentage of service games won (87), percentage of break points saved (67), percentage of second serve points won (54), and percentage of points won returning a second serve (54). Key stats all.
He's fifth on the money list this year (just over $3.5 million), posting a record of 48-13 (.787) at the time of this article. And Delpo notched the 300th match of his career in his successful run last week in Basel.
Did You Know?: In 2008, del Potro became the first player in ATP history to win his first four career titles in as many tournaments. He also completed the second-longest winning streak in '08, and the second longest by a teenager in the Open Era (since 1968), behind only Nadal -- with a winning sequence that spanned 23 matches over five tournaments.
One of the hardest-working guys on tour, rest assured that Delpo will not rest on his laurels as he gets ready to attack '14, in just a couple months. Until then, we'll be watching him in Paris and London over the next two weeks.