If you believe the Thailand Open, Juan Martin del Potro will make his return to the ATP Tour in Bangkok in late September. If you believe the USTA, the Argentinian will return in time to defend his U.S. Open title beginning next month. I believe neither. It's only apparent that del Potro will come back to tennis at some point this year, but it's doubtful that anybody, even him, knows exactly when that will be.
The confusion began on Thursday when organizers from the Thailand Open released a statement saying del Potro would play in their tournament. The press release included a generic quote from del Potro about how he's looking forward to returning to tennis and having a good result in Bangkok. Immediately, stories and blog posts were written (including here) about how del Potro would make his comeback in Thailand and, presumably, miss his title defense in New York.
Not so fast, said the USTA. Within a few hours of the announcement from Bangkok, the USTA issued a press release of its own touting the fact that del Potro was on the entry list for this year's U.S. Open. That was no surprise, since appearing on the list only means that a player is not not playing. If there's a 1 percent chance that a player thinks he or she might be able to compete in a Grand Slam, they're appearing on that list. It's much easier to withdraw at the last minute than it is to get into the tournament. (This is like checking the "maybe" box on an Evite. You're not sure you can go but you don't want to completely rule it out either. My guess is that Delpo has done the same thing here. There's no harm in optimistic planning.)
Tennis people who know what they're talking about realized this was a non-story. To others it seemed like a big deal — Del Potro is back! Wire stories were rushed out with the breathless headlines that the defending champ would return to Flushing Meadows, even though nothing had changed.
But then, sensing that some were excited about the news and others were skeptical, the USTA went a step further and released another statement specifically addressing del Potro's status. This one said del Potro was already hitting. The USTA didn't say whether he was warming up with a coach to test out his wrist or putting in eight-hour days, just that he was "hitting", which evidently is enough to suggest that he's ready to compete in one of the biggest tournaments of the year.
For what it's worth, del Potro himself has been largely silent on the subject. He Tweeted that his doctor is happy with his progress, but didn't specifically adress when he would return.
For others to speculate as to how del Potro's wrist will feel in a month is foolish. Only Juan Martin del Potro knows his plans and, from the sounds of it, he's just as unsure about them as the rest of us.