In spite of his straight sets loss to home favorite Alexander Zverev in the BMW Open final, Guido Pella was the biggest winner of the week in Munich.
The Argentinian, who won six matches on the Bavarian clay, is set to take a 49-spot leap in the Emirates ATP rankings, soaring all the way from No. 158 to No. 109. The arrow is pointing in the right direction for the 26-year-old southpaw, having won 12 of his last 17 duels after opening 2017 on a brutal five-match losing streak.
Nowhere to go but up after hitting rock bottom
After peaking at world No. 39 in March 2016, the tour spat out a struggling Pella. Between early May 2016 and late February 2017, the lefty only collected five wins in 17 events. Dreadful stats no matter how you look at them.
The 6-2 7-5 loss to veteran Victor Estrella-Burgos in R1 of the Rio Open was the latest installment of an atrocious trend. It cost the Bahia Blanca native a whopping 300 ATP points, as he was the defending runner-up in Brazil. His ranking plummeted from No. 83 to No. 163.
Earlier that month, Pella’s 2-6 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-2 loss at the hands of Fabio Fognini cost Argentina a spot in the Davis Cup quarterfinal. Merely two months after conquering the World Cup of Tennis for the first time, the hopes of a repeat were shattered. Pella had failed himself and his country.
Despite this pair of devastating setbacks, Pella refused to raise the white flag.
Far from scheduling Challengers to (hopefully) slowly build his ranking back, Pella opted to roll a dice and grind it out on the unforgiving main tour. Such gamble has paid off so far. His list of victims since the Rio Open includes the likes of Australian Open semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov, the aforementioned Fognini, and the NextGen star Hyeon Chung.
Flashback to bogus retirement in 2014
After a brief period as a fringe Top 100 player between 2012 and 2013, the Argentinian’s performance fell off a cliff. Midway through the 2014 campaign, citing dissatisfaction and mental burnout, announced he would be temporarily stepping away from the game.
His retirement lasted only three months. His rank dropped to No. 214 but, by virtue of dominating the clay Challenger circuit, he steadily climbed toward the Top 100.
Pella didn’t want to repeat that type of comeback this time. That process would take too long for Pella, already in his age-27 season.
Instead, the Munich final run is nothing but a confirmation of Pella’s mental growth. His perseverance has paid quick dividends right when he needed them.
The substantial ranking boost will not allow him to gain direct entry at the Madrid or Rome Masters 1000, though.
Therefore, this week at Aix en Provence (France), Pella will be making his first Challenger Tour appearance since November 2015. His first round foe will be the hard-hitting Russian prospect Andrey Rublev.
Clay juggernaut as a junior
Talking about young, up-and-coming players, did you know Pella was once considered the best clay courter of his generation?
In 2006, he reached the No. 1 spot in the Tennis Europe U-16 rankings after dominating the clay swing, including the prestigious Torneo Avvenire in Milan (Italy).
Fast forward two years and Pella hoisted the Copa Bonfiglio, a Grade A ITF that also takes place in Milan.
The Argentinian seemed poised to win the 2008 Roland Garros boys title. He reached the semis without dropping a set, edging top seed 15-year-old Bernard Tomic
(yes, you read this correctly) 7-6 6-3 in the quarters. Nevertheless, Pella’s progress was brought to a halt by Jerzy Janowicz (not kidding), who had previously upset Dimitrov.
While this success on clay has not exactly been translated onto the ATP tour yet, Pella owns a winning mentality deep inside of him. It’s a matter of time before he makes his first big splash on the dirt.
If clay specialists Pablo Cuevas or Albert Ramos did not hit their stride until their late 20s, why can’t Pella follow suit?