A couple of months ago, I wrote the following about Guido Pella, after he had won his third Challenger Tour title of the season, and reached a then career high ranking of 121 in the world:
“At this rate, he can very well reach [the top 100] before the end of this season, or very early in 2013.”
Saturday evening, he proved all those who believed in his potential right, when he defeated Adrian Ungur of Romania, 6-3 6-7(4) 7-6(4), to win the Challenger Tour Finals title, thus succeeding to Cedrik-Marcel Stebe, who had won the event last year.
Entering due to the many pull-outs among the best Challenger players of the season, Pella was not the favourite to reach that stage of the event, especially since he was drawn in the group of Thomaz Bellucci, local favourite and wild card of the event.
Little did we know, when the tournament started, that Bellucci would retire because of a left shoulder injury just after being defeated by Pella in the first match of the round robin stage.
Bellucci’s pull-out, however, doesn’t, in any case, take any merit away from the Argentine, who hung on and fought as he always does, taking advantage of his opponent’s collapse (the Brazilian was up a break in the third set) to leave the court with his best career win.
In fact, Guido Pella, ranked 124, defeated three top 100 players en route to the title: Bellucci (33), Ruben Ramírez-Hidalgo (96), and Victor Hanescu (64), the latter after coming back from an early break to a 7-6(3) 6-2 semi-final win.
As for Ungur, he inflicted Pella his only round robin defeat, a tough 4-6 7-6(6) 7-6(5) win on the second day of the tournament after defeating Ramírez-Hidalgo on the first day, then losing to Thiago Alves before defeating Aljaz Bedene comfortably, 6-4 6-1, in the semi-final.
A high quality final
The Challenger Tour Finals championship match opposing Pella and Ungur was at the image of their round robin encounter: tight, with the Romanian taking the second set in the tiebreak, and the decisive set also ending in a breaker. There stop the comparisons.
At the start of the match, Pella quickly took a break advantage and served particularly well, except in his last game (probably due to a bit of nerves), where he had to save a few break back points, but ended up taking an important advantage by winning the first set, 6-4.
One set away from the biggest title of his young career, as well as from entering the top 100, the Bahía Blanca native showed quite a bit of nerves in a very even second set, making a few uncharacteristic errors (for the level he had been showing since the beginning of the match) to lose a couple of break points, and then in the tiebreak, which Ungur took 7-4. The finish line, for Pella, was really close, but still not within reach.
The Argentine made quick work of shaking off that tiebreak to break at the start of the deciding set, a break he lost midway through, and like their round robin match, Ungur and Pella would decide matters in another tiebreak.
Contrary of their previous encounter, this time, it was Pella who took, and kept, the upper hand, late into the breaker, knowing well what was on the line when he reached his first match point and said to his coach: “I know, Fabi, I know, it’s not one more point.”
And it was not. Adrian Ungur’s shot went wide and Guido Pella fell flat to the ground, a deserving champion, before shaking hands with his vanquished opponent and running to the stands to hug Fabian Blengino and the rest of his team. One of the latest players entering the field due to the various pull-outs, Guido Pella was the one leaving with the trophy.
Confidence and mental strength
At 22 years of age, Pella, a former Junior French Open semi-finalist, has gone through a very tough patch upon turning pro, losing motivation and even considering retirement.
After missing a few months of action due to a wrist injury in 2011, Pella came back and started growing in strength, reaching his first Challenger Tour finals in Guayaquil coming all the way from the qualifications, a performance that ended up being the catalyst of what we have seen throughout this season.
With the help of his team, the Argentine built his game and the results quickly boosted his confidence. From a player who lacked even the motivation to train at some point, he forged himself the never-give-up guy reputation he now has, fighting on every point even when he is on the brink of defeat, an attitude that bore fruit.
Before São Paulo, Pella won three Challenger Tour events (Salinas, Manta, Campinas) and qualified for his first career Grand Slam main draw, at the U.S. Open, defeating Lukas Rosol in the last qualification round, and came very close to beating Nikolay Davydenko in the first round.
At the Challenger Tour Finals, the lefty had a very tough task ahead of him, having been drawn in the difficult Green Group along with Bellucci, Ungur, and Ramírez-Hidalgo. Pella, who only “wanted to play three matches and see what happens”, made it all the way to the trophy, pointing his win against Bellucci as the starting point to last week’s performance:
“Beating Bellucci gave me a lot of confidence. It was one of the hardest matches I’ve ever played. Everyone was rooting against me. At the start, I was a little bit nervous, but I managed to win the match.”
He showed this growing confidence throughout every match, narrowly losing to Ungur before convincingly making his way to the final, and then to the last triumph, relying on a very solid forehand, from which he managed to produce a great amount of at times highly spectacular winners, great serving, and very aggressive play, something he has improved a lot since the end of last season.
The seventh top 100 player of Argentina… and that is only the beginning
With his triumph in São Paulo, Guido Pella, who started the year ranked 346, entered the top 100 when the new rankings came out on Monday, finishing 2012 ranked 97th, and assured of a direct entry into the Australian Open main draw.
First Argentine of his generation (1990) to enter the top 100, he will join countrymen Juan Martín del Potro (7), Juan Mónaco (12), Carlos Berlocq (66), Leonardo Mayer (71), David Nalbandian (82), and Horacio Zeballos (85) into that select group of players.
His new ranking will also gain him direct entry into the Latin American ATP tournaments main draws, he who was playing Challengers at the same time this season. As he told Jorge Viale (Fue Buena) after Saturday’s win, what he wants, now, is to gain confidence at the ATP level, and win points there so he wouldn’t have to play Challengers (where he has points to defend).
Somehow, something tells me that he will do just that. With his talent, determination, and grit, Guido Pella has shown he has what it takes to shine on the ATP Tour in the years to come. He made his way gradually, and is now proving to be another rising star of the young Legión, one who can, I am convinced, go very far.