[Angry author’s note: I had this article written and set to upload 7 hours ago, but then this damned blizzard we’re having blew out my cable and internet so I couldn’t post it. Now it looks like I missed Day 7 of my 12 Days of Christmas, but I didn’t miss it!  I was ready, I swear! Anyway, I’ll have another set of profiles up later today. Weather permitting, of course.]

Probably the most daunting challenge I encountered when assembling this year’s Watch list was figuring out which of the Argentinians to include. Or – more to the point – which ones not to include. So many Argies, so little time; how do I choose just one? (One was my arbitrary limit, based on absolutely nothing at all.)

It’s hard to limit it to just ten, for that matter. I know it’s a Captain Obvious kind of thing to say, but it’s just staggering how many quality clay court grinders are churned out by Argentina’s player-producing machinery. Federico Del Bonis, Facundo Bagnis, Guido Pella, Facundo Arguello, Diego Schwartzman, Marco Trungelliti, Nicolas Pastor, Agustin Velotti, Renzo Olivo, and on and on. Every single one of them under 21 years of age and heading for the Top 200 (if they’re not there already).

And they’ve all beaten up on one another at some point, so it’s nearly impossible to pick out the Alpha Argie among them, for the most part (surprising fact, though: it’s Marco Trungelliti who has by far the best W/L record vs. the others from the above-listed group – an impressive 11/2. This fact becomes less surprising when you realize he’s also the oldest in that group, sometimes by over two years, and has spent a good deal of time puttin’ a whoopin’ on the young ‘uns. Let’s check back in on those H2H’s a few years down the road and see how that record’s held up, eh?)

You know what would be absolutely amazing? I’ll tell you: if there were a Tennis Australia-style, livestreamed wildcard playoff for Argentina’s nueva legion, competing in a round robin tournament (not the single elimination draw TA did this year) for a spot in the French Open. I would pay good money to see that happen.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, the Delbo would get into the French main draw directly via ranking (it could happen) (plus we gotta make some Delbo room in my hypothetical scenario) and you threw the other 8 into a two-group round-robin tourney. Who do you think would be the eventual WC winner? Answer me that, Argiephiles!

Anyway, back to the problem at hand. Which to choose? Heck, it’s difficult to limit myself to just one Facundo – never mind one Argie. (And on that count, I’m tempted to pick Facundo Mena just ’cause he has a ridiculously wristy forehand like mine, but he’s not even in the Top Thousand yet, so that will have to wait.)

It would also be tempting to just be lazy and pick one of the highest ranked among them – Del Bonis, at #160 and Bagnis (#242) lead the way in that category – but closer inspection reveals that the three players who began the year ranked the highest among the young guns (Guido Pella being the third) (and all three lefties, by the way) arguably struggled more than anyone this year.

Sure, Delbo won the Rome-2 Challenger, and was a finalist at Napoli and Rimini (Italy must be full of tailors, as it really suited him), but he just went 34/27 on the year and only picked up an additional 35 ranking spots. Certainly not the kind of breakout year I was expecting from him.

Federico Del Bonis

Pella’s year was borderline disastrous, as he dropped over 100 places in the rankings on the heels of a 26/22 year.

 

Guido Pella

Of the three, Bagnis was the most successful, but that’s damning with faint praise, to be honest.  Thanks to a season-ending win at the Brazil F36 Futures, Bagnis ended his season on a high note, and his 5 straight wins to take the title pushed his 2010 W/L record to a far more decent-looking 37/29. But apart from a run to the finals at the Bytom Challenger, during which he scored victories against Martin Klizan, Marius Copil and Matthias Bachinger before succumbing to Pere Riba, even Facu didn’t really do as much as I had anticipated from him.

Facundo Bagnis

I have to say, I was kind of fascinated by Marco Trungelliti’s year; he’s really come on strong, and out of relative obscurity. The almost-21-year-old “veteran” of this crew had no junior success to speak of (his ranking high was #630), but he finished this year at a brisk 16/5 pace, which certainly caught my attention. That said, his 35/18 season only amounted to a gain of 45 spots in the rankings, up to #429 from #474. I remain unconvinced, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him for sure.

So that left me with five from which to pick: Arguello, Schwartzman, Velotti, Olivo, and Pastor – all of them under 20 years old, the youngest of the young guns. Olivo, at 18 years old (and 9 months), gained the second-most ranking ground this year, racing up to #618 from a starting point of #1,125. A former #8 junior (and by “former”, I mean April of this year), he won the Bolivia F4 futures in addition to his QF Boys showings at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But he’s still a year or so off, I think, from my being able to tout him as a Player to Watch.

Renzo Olivo and El Mago Guillermo Coria

Pastor – who’s coached by Javier Nalbandian, brother of a certain someone you might have heard of (hint: his name rhymes with “Shmavid”) – and Schwartzman have very similar resumes, both for this year and for their careers. The 18 year olds largely eschewed the junior tourneys and have focused on the pros; both made the finals of three Futures events this year and gained a lot of ground in 2010. But, as with Olivo, I feel they’re just a bit too raw for me to feel comfortable putting my 2011 PTW betting chips on their names.

Diego Schwartzman

Therefore, ladies and gentleman, by a process of painstaking elimination, we have our two 2011 Players To Watch, Argentine Edition finalists: Facundo Arguello and Agustin Velotti. Velotti is probably the most acclaimed of the two, having won the Roland Garros junior title over best friend and former compatriot Andrea Collarini. He also reached the semis of the boys US Open (losing to Denis Kudla) and, amusingly enough for the purposes of our PtW finalists, reached the RG finals and USO semis in doubles, partnering none other than Facundo Arguello.

Agustin Velotti

But even though Velotti picked up 276 ranking slots on the year, there’s something about his 22/20 season, his #560 year-end position, and his five consecutive losses to conclude his 2010 campaign that makes me wary of fully committing to the still-young 18-and-a-half-year-old Agustin on the senior level, which will probably make me look very foolish sooner than later. Still, perhaps it’s best to wait a year and see how he does.

And thus, the winner, and new champion, of my 2011 Players to Watch Argentine winner-take-all contest is (and this will be no surprise unless you’ve been skimming) Facundo Arguello!

Facundo Arguello

Now, lest you think that he is merely the last man standing, let’s take a look at Arguello’s impressive credentials:

At 18 years (and 4 months) old, he’s the youngest out of those I’ve written about here, but has already achieved more than most of them. A former Top Ten junior (reaching #8 in January of this year), he’s busted into the professional ranks in a way that Velotti has not, winning 3 Futures titles and even making the finals of the Belo Horizonte Challenger (losing to Rogerio Dutra Da Silva, who’s the top seed in this week’s Brazil F1 Futures).

His 35 win, 14 loss record on the year, launched him 426 rungs up the ATP ladder, going from #737 to #311 in the world. And “launch” is the operative word here. Check out how he throws his body weight into every single shot in this rally:

I’ve seen a bunch of Del Bonis, Bagnis, Pella and Velotti matches this year, but I haven’t seen anything like the speed and strength I’m seeing from Arguello. For want of a more technical term: wow. The guy may look like a muppet, but he certainly doesn’t play like one. (For those who think that’s an inaccurate aesthetic assessment, I invite you to check out this interview after his F15 Futures title this year) (And, for the record, I find muppets to be endearing, so I’m not using the term in a pejorative way at all):

By the way, I cannot recommend this YouTube playlist enough for those who are interested in eyeballing the Argie next wave themselves.  Diegoamuy, whoever you are, wherever you are (I’m guessing Buenos Aires), I am forever in your debt, as there’s no way I could’ve pieced this Argiecentric séptimo segment without your tremendous video collection. If only every country had a videographer like yourself, sir, my job would be a whole lot easier.

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