Change in tennis is fast-moving. There are the rising stars in the game, basking in the media and fan’s adoration. Those players either continue on their trajectory to greatness or are thrown to the curb, labeled a bust who will never make it in the upper echelon of the ATP Tour.
And then there are the players who just amble through their career, not garnering much attention at all. The players who never have a big breakthrough as a young player and continue on in the lower rungs of tennis, trying to make a living.
However, Victor Estrella Burgos, currently 39 years old, showed the tennis world that it’s never too late too late to make a charge towards the top of the game. Estrella Burgos, who will retire after the Santo Domingo Challenger next week, won every one of his seven Challenger titles past the age of the 30. He was well past 30 when he made his first ever slam third round at the US Open in 2014 and won three straight ATP Tour titles at the Quito Open in Ecuador. In every final in Quito, he had to win a deciding set for the championship.
The point is, just because you aren’t a 20 years old rising star doesn’t mean that you can’t make a breakthrough on the ATP Tour. Which brings me to Salvatore Caruso.
Before the 2019 season, 26 year-old Salvatore Caruso had never broken into the top 150 in the world and spent much of his time playing professional tennis outside of the top 200. In September of last year, Caruso had finally broken through and won his first Challenger title, beating Cristian Garin in straight sets at the Como Challenger.
This was clearly a title that meant so much to Caruso. Caruso had won a few Futures titles to that point, but the last Challenger final he had even played in was the Biella Challenger in 2013. Yet, over five years later, Caruso was ready to take the chance. In retrospect, given Garin’s very outstanding Challenger run very shortly after that match, the win was all the more impressive.
That title in Como was a deflection point in Caruso’s career, the start of a path that would see him rise much further up the rankings than he had ever done in the past. The 2019 season has been northing short of incredible for the Italian.
The first major moment for Caruso this season was when, on his way to the semifinals of the Phoenix Challenger (which had an ATP Tour-type draw), he beat current World No. 15 David Goffin in the quarterfinals. It was quite a shock, as Goffin was the clear favorite for the title, but Caruso made Goffin earn every point and turned the match around after a tough first set to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.
After some more solid results in the spring, Caruso finally made it past the first round of a major for the first time at the French Open. He had to come back from a set down twice in qualifying, but Caruso was resilient and never gave up. In the main draw, Caruso hit another gear, only losing one set in the first two rounds, defeating Jaume Munar and Gilles Simon. While Caruso lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic in the third round, he put up a good fight and the match was closer than the scoreline.
Caruso made his first ever ATP Tour semifinals at a 250 event in Umag later this summer. This included a win over current World No. 14 Borna Coric in the round of 16. Caruso had to qualify for that tournament as well, coming back from a set down against Tommy Robredo in the final qualifying round to even make the main draw. It was a real shame that Caruso retired from his semifinal match against Dusan Lajovic, as Caruso had a real shot at a first ATP Tour title if he didn’t pick up an injury.
And now, this week in Barcelona, Caruso has won his second Challenger Tour title. Caruso only dropped one set all week, in the round of 16 against Tommy Robredo, winning his last eight sets of the tournament to take the title over Jozef Kovalik, 6-4, 6-2 to break into the top 100 in the world, as he currently sits at World No. 98 when the rankings for next week come out. In the ATP Race, Caruso is in an even better spot, sitting currently at No. 90 in the race. Caruso turned pro eight years ago in 2011, but it’s 2019 that stands as the best year of his career, at least for now.
There’s a few impressive qualities to Caruso’s game that have really shined through this year. First, the depth on Caruso’s shots is incredible. He rarely gives opponents short balls and is often putting the ball very close to the baseline.
Second, Caruso’s counterpunching skills are superb. The Italian will often be scrambling around, nearly out of the point, but somehow come out on top. This is a testament both to his foot speed and his ability to anticipate where his opponents are going with their shots. It’s amazing how accurate Caruso is on shots that a lot of players would just be trying to get back in play.
Finally, you have to admire is his fighting spirit. Caruso fights tooth-and-nail in every match and never gives up. His attitude on the court is a real representation of his career. Caruso doesn’t really have any big weapons on the court, he doesn’t have a particularly big serve, forehand, or backhand. He wasn’t a juniors star nor a player that the tennis media and fans gushed over when he was just started out playing professional events.
Caruso went about his business and, starting with that Challenger title in Como late last year, but continuing this season, pushed his way up through that top 150 barrier that had haunted him up until this year. And now, Caruso is into the top 100 for the first time.
Caruso might not ever be a top 50 player. Heck, he might not make it to the top 75, even though he has a really good shot given his level of play this season. But, Caruso has grinding his way towards this moment since he came on tour. He deserves his moment in the sun.
Salvatore Caruso, World No. 98 as of next week’s rankings, is the newest player to reach the top 100 on the ATP Tour. Bravo.