June 12, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Opportunity lost, experience gained for Peliwo

There was an opening there for Filip Peliwo, as Federico Delbonis wasn’t exactly blowing the 20-year-old Canadian away on the red clay he so favours.

And it was awfully close.

But in the end, the world No. 43 from Argentina eliminated the 20-year-old Canadian 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-4 to advance to the quarterfinals of the ATP Tour event in Casablanca, Morocco.

The outcome was very much in doubt – until Peliwo double-faulted twice in a row at 4-4, 15-30 in the third set.

They were full-value, restaurant-quality double faults, too, making it halfway up the net at best. In the “go hard or go home” category, they were aces.

Quite understandably, this was Peliwo’s reaction. Until then, the excitable kid had kept his relative cool for the most part.

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But the two points Peliwo lost to get to 15-30 in the first place also were a bit of a microcosm of the match. On the first, impatient, he netted a forehand trying to go for way too much on his first groundstroke of the rally, right after the service return. On the second, Delbonis spun a series of high, loopy, safe, tospin shots at Peliwo – taunting him to pull the trigger. He did, and he over-hit a forehand.

At 23, Delbonis’s ranking is at a career-high No. 43. But despite the fact that he bagged his first career ATP Tour title in February in Rio (it was a good draw, with a surprise finalist in Paolo Lorenzi, and he maximized), he’s not exactly on fire. In his eight other tournaments this season, on both clay and hard courts, Delbonis had five first-round losses and three second-round losses. A couple of those losses (David Ferrer and the hot-at-the-time Pablo Andujar) were to be expected; the others, not quite so much.

For much of the match, Delbonis played like a man whose confidence wasn’t exactly soaring, offering up unforced errors on rather routine shots that took Peliwo off the hook numerous times.

But many other times, Peliwo forced the play.  It’s not easy to hit winners on the dirt; Peliwo certainly hit his share.

He just couldn’t quite find that happy zone, a notch or two below “going for broke too much” and a couple of notches higher than “push and hope the big guy misses.”

In essence, this match was a tug-of-war between the way Peliwo has Peliwosadalways played, and the way he’s working with new coach Galo Blanco on how he should play going forward. He had the clay-court angel on one shoulder, and the hard-court devil on the other.

As we outlined yesterday in this interview with him, it’s very much a work in progress. And you could see the yin tugging at the yang throughout this match. But on the very positive side, you could actually see both of them.

On the even more positive side, a player ranked No. 266 (he’s a far better player than that, the results just have yet to show it) went toe-to-toe with a top-50 clay-court guy, and only lost by the slimmest of margins. Peliwo probably might not see all the positive in that right now. But it’s impressive nonetheless.

From 2-2, Delbonis ran away with the first set as that hard-court devil took over. The more the set threatened to get away from him, the more Peliwo panicked. And it went quickly.

To his credit, he re-calibrated after being broken early in the second, as the angel began whispering in his ear. Peliwo started playing to safer spots. He waited for better opportunities. And he served a lot better. Suddenly, it was Delbonis who started spraying balls. Not only did Peliwo Peliwostickbreak back, he broke again.

And when he went down love-40 serving at 4-3 (two more restaurant-quality double-faults there to get him there), he saved it with some big serving, a nifty little backhand cross-court drop shot, and a forced error after a quality, patient rally.

When he served for the second set at 5-4, (another solid double-fault there at 30-15, halfway up the net), he had a good look at a fairly open court with an inside-out forehand. But there, perhaps ever mindful that the shot would be going to Delbonis’s damaging forehand, lacking perhaps that extra bit of belief he needed, he hesitated a nano-second – enough to throw off his timing and hit the ball long.

No matter. At 5-5 in the tiebreak, Peliwo pounded his best serve, down the T, to Delbonis’s great strength, and was rewarded. One point later, the set was his.

Until 4-4 in the third set, it was all even. It was the best tennis of the match. And then, Peliwo cracked just at the wrong time.

The one thing about that moment was that it exemplified what Peliwo is going to be up against in every single match he plays at this level.

He’s a little guy by current standards. Every shot he hits requires full-out effort. Time after time after time. Meanwhile, his much larger, stronger opponent seemed to lope about the court, looping balls in, occasionally pulling the trigger, but mostly making it look like a fairly low-effort exercise except for the times Peliwo was able to crack one hard enough to make him stretch.

When you’re the one doing all the work, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to get to you. It’s cumulative in today’s oh-so physical game. The more he plays these types of matches, the more Peliwo can extend those stays of execution, so to speak, The more he does it, the Peliwohandshakeless of a mental effort it will become, and he can then use all his energy on the physical.

It certainly won’t be easy. But if this very successful week in Casablanca taught him anything – especially against veteran competitors Florent Serra and Filippo Volandri, and now against someone he’ll surely see again on Tour, it’s this: Peliwo is consistent enough to rally with guys if he can find the patience. The ball-striking is there. And when you put the ball over the net, good things can happen. It gives you the opportunity to use your weapons at the appropriate times.

It’s Open Court’s opinion that Galo Blanco can turn out to be a terrific coach for him – far more than he was for Milos Raonic.

With Raonic, the serve is always going to be the foundation, the shortcut in his game. But that’s not how Blanco played. And you could see signs at times of the clay-courter in him trying to mold Raonic into more of a consistent groundstroker, even if some dialback did need to be done to shore up those areas.

In Peliwo, Blanco can see a player of similar stature, but one who has more modern weapons. Peliwo is far more of a blank slate. and his clay-court experience has been sorely lacking so far, to help fill in those blanks. It’s hard to believe, but this tournament was Peliwo’s first tournament on clay since that French Open junior final – nearly two years ago.

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