As in “O Holy Night” – ’cause this is the 8th part of my 12 Days of Christmas series (and the players I’m profiling today speak Spanish), geddit?  Yeah – I’m not so thrilled with that joke either.  Let’s move on…

So, on this eighth day of Challenger Tennis Christmas, I have to say: I am the luckiest SOB on the planet. Why is that, you may wonder (if you’re the wondering sort)? Well, it’s because the two players who have been on my 2011 Players to Watch list/radar happen to be featured together in the most spectacular video I’ve featured to date. If you do nothing else today, I beseech you to skip my stupid words and pictures (if you must) and go directly to the “Javier Marti – Andrea Collarini final match in Palafrugellvid at the end of this article and, of course, watch it. If I do nothing else with this article other than getting you to watch that video, then it’s been a success.

Anyway, as you may have guessed – if you’re the deductive type – today’s 2011 Players to Watch are Javier Marti and Andrea Collarini. We’ll start with Javier. The 18 year-old from Spain made an early name for himself by winning the European Championships (U12) at age 11.   As with the course of many a Spanish prodigy, he largely left juniors behind in his mid-teens (he had always played up a level in juniors anyway), posting two quarterfinal and one semifinal showing in 2008 and finishing the year ranked #847 at age 16.

He started 2009 a rickety 9/15 but had twice the success in the second half of his season, going 18/15 to finish at 27/30 for the year. This year, Marti overcame an 0-5 start to his 2010 campaign to win his first pro tournament at the Bulgaria F3 Futures event in May.

But he didn’t stop there; the speedy-wiry Spaniard with the liquid backhand went on to take titles in Romania and Portugal as well, finishing at a 54/28 pace, gaining 350 spots on the ATP ladder and slicing his ranking in (more than) half, from #685 to #335. He’s now the fifth-youngest player in the Top 400, behind Bernard Tomic, yesterday’s profilee Facundo Arguello, Ryan Harrison and Filip Krajinovic.

Though he didn’t have much success at the Challenger level, going 6/9 on the year, he did post wins over Sam Groth and Alex Ward, and I strongly suspect that his results will only continue to improve has he fills out and gets stronger. According to his coach, Oscar Burrieza, there’s a lot he can do to get better mentally as well. I’ll have the opportunity to see him play in a few weeks, as he’s on the entry list for the USA F2 Futures in Tamarac, FL. I’m very much looking forward to my first chance to see him play in person.

OK, I got some vids for ya. This first one, which I trust you skipped right to (per my instructions), is of Collarini and Marti facing off in a U16 battle in Palafrugell Spain. I won’t spoil the outcome for you – you’ll just have to watch and see. What I will say, is that – with its hilariously epic music and descriptive documentation – I hope and expect this holcombBrook masterpiece to one day be looked back upon as a vital document of two talents who have since made it big. Their games may have changed a bit since then, but this vid provides terrific audiovisual insight into the sometimes awkward and hard-to-read lefty game of Collarini, as well as the tremendous racquet head speed of the Marti forehand and his comparatively compact and smooth swing off the backhand side. Great stuff!

I kinda dig this next vid for its practically subterranean vantage point – cool setting, too. I also like that Marti looks to attack, and is not just content to slug it out from the baseline. This is pretty recent footage, taken from a 6-4 5-7 6-3 win over Alessandro Gianessi (himself a former Top 40 junior) at the Spain F33 in September:

(p.s. watching parts 2 & 3 is recommended as well – there’s even some S & V in part 3!)

And lastly, but not Jason Priestley… you’re not going to learn a whole lot from this next video, but I’m including it for the following reasons: 1) the soundtrack, in a word, rules, b) Morgan Phillips is in it, and iii) Marti is having none of the net hug at the end. All of which makes it a pretty entertaining selection, to my eyes and ears:

That footage is from the final of Spain’s F34, by the way. Which took place just after the Spain F33 footage was taken, I’ll point out in case you’re quite dense.

Moving on…

By now, the “Coming to America” saga of Andrea Collarini, the Argentinian-cum-American is so shopworn that – for me, at least – it’s about as interesting to recount and/or hear about as it is to listen to tales about Ana Ivanovic playing tennis in emptied-out swimming pools. So please, please pardon me if I just do the lazy thing and just link you to this terrific Doug Robson-penned article about the whole dealio, and trust that you’ll read it if you’re not already familiar.

It really is fascinating, I swear. It’s just that I’ve told the tale so many times before I can’t bring myself to type it again. What? OK, fine. Short version only: Collarini played for Argentina until this past spring, then changed affiliations to the U.S. just before the French Open, only to advance to the finals where he had to play his best friend from childhood, Agustin Velotti. There – happy?

Oh, and this part from the article always kills me:

“He’s my best friend in tennis,” said Collarini of Agustin Velotti, who, like Collarini, is unseeded. Collarini and Velotti have known each other since they were 11, played doubles together since age 14 and sometimes slept in the same hotel bed before facing off in tournament finals. According to Collarini, the Argentine tennis authorities forbade them from playing together in Paris despite their shared history. “We couldn’t play here because the federation didn’t want me to play with him,” said Collarini, who speaks in deliberate and accented English.”

Brutal! Torn apart! Friendships rent asunder by cruel country politics! #drama

The soppy romantics out there might be heartened to learn that the pair recently reunited to play the Buenos Aires Challenger together at the end of last month. They lost in the first round, but still. More recently, Andrea has found much greater doublicular success teaming up with my Day Two Players To Watch profilee, Denis Kudla, reaching the finals of two USA Futures and the semis of another.

But enough about doubles! It’s stupid anyway! (Kidding.)

At just 18 years of age (he’s actually 20 days younger than Marti), the New Yawk born lefty (moved to Argentina at age 3, yadda yadda – didn’t you read the linked article?!?!) is ranked just a bit lower (OK, 246 spots lower) than his holcombBrook vidmate. But a lot can happen in 20 days! Plus, Javier’s been logging way more miles and matches on the pro tour – 30 in all! (matches, not miles) – so we have to see what Andrea can do when he isn’t wasting two weeks out of the year to, say, make the Roland Garros boys finals or beating the top seed at the US Open on the way to a R16 finish.

He’s yet to make a final on the pro tour, but his results have been very consistent so far. In 2010, he made four Futures semifinals and six Futures quarterfinals, adding up to a respectable 27/21 record on the year.  Collarini will also be playing the USA F2 that Marti is playing in the new year.  If they play one another again, I’ll be sure to take some video.  Although I can’t promise the soundtrack will be as good.

Speaking of videos… more videos! Here’s some nice corner-to-corner hitting against a certain famous Argie.

I wonder if Pico’s allowed to hit with Andrea anymore? Funny how he goes to outline the mark at the end of the rally, too.

Next! Stuff to love about the following video: Jack Sock cameo! Andrea talking about Roger Federer. Stuff to cringe about from the following video: the presenter talking during play. The pronunciation of Collarini’s name (Americanization has its dangers). The following video:

Last, and certainly best, my man diegoamuy coming through for me again, with another fantastic BATennis treat. Stuff to love about the following video: soundtrack selection, proper pronunciation, HD footage of the Velotti/Collarini reunion, outtakes and general hilarity. Stuff to cringe about from the following video: absolutely nothing. The following video:

Perfection. So let’s end there, shall we? Hasta manana.