On Day Number Four of our Players to Watch odyssey, I’m going to change things up. A lot.

So far, all of my Players to Watch have been righties. Today, we’re goin’ left. And all of 2014’s PTWs have been players from north of the equator. Today, we’re goin’ south.

Yesterday’s selection, Kyle Edmund, is a picture of comportment and calm. Today’s pick is so feisty that I contemplated making him a PTW a few years ago but promptly disqualified him due to his on-court behavior.

That said, this fiery South American lefty is so noisy and intense on the court that you cannot ignore him, even though you sometimes cringe internally (and cover your ears externally).

So, people, I ask you — are you ready for the David Souto experience? (Note: if you’re in the “tennis needs more personalities” camp, then you are.)

A Souto Salute

Souto Salute

Let’s rewind the paragraph machine to 2011, when I first contemplated making the volcanic Venezuelan a Player to Watch.  At the time, he was coming off a dynamic 42/24 first pro season of 2010, during which time he rose from #705 to #453 in the rankings. I arrived in Florida for the first four Futures of 2011, eager to see in person a talent I’d only seen on crappy streams.

Alas, after witnessing several spectacular meltdowns (that could make Lava look cold and inert by comparison), I decided I couldn’t fully endorse such a tempestuous talent.  Details of those meltdowns are here and here, if you’re interested. (Now that I have the perspective that distance lends, it all seems at least a tiny bit hilarious.)

So what’s changed now?  First of all, the guy’s been through a lot.  Two years ago, he was stuck in a Spanish hospital for weeks due to a blood platelet problem that left him lethargic on court and uncertain as to whether he’d be able to play again. Though he was given the all clear to start up again in 2012, the illness shut down his 2011 season in August. That kind of crucible can change a guy (although, as you’ll see, it didn’t change him too much).

Souto Tossed Salud

Souto Salud

After understandably limping through the beginning of his 2012 season at a sub-.500 7/8 clip, he blazed through the rest of his campaign, going 51/19 and taking two Futures titles. His ranking recovered from a low of #525 to #323 by the end of the year.

Souto Fierce

This year, after another sluggish start (0/4), he’s back on track, winning six Futures titles (making the final in nine), riding a 64/26 record (winning over 70% of his matches), and leading his beloved Venezuelan Davis Cup team out of Group II in the Americas Zone, playing all three ties and winning three out of four live rubbers.

Here’s a fantastic video that lets you live all the Davis Cup glory in under one hand-held minute to a Survivor, Rocky IV soundtrack. What more could you ask for?

The best thing about the video is that includes this moment —

Hold Me Back!

“Hold Me Back!”

as part of the glory. And the girls taping the video are all, “Ai!”  Oh, David.

He went on to make the semis of both singles and doubles at the Guayaquil Challenger just a couple of weeks ago.  And since he made the finals of last week’s Venezuela F8 Futures event, the 21-year-old will be up to #225 in next Monday’s rankings, which will be a career high (prev: 229), and a +109-spot improvement from the start of the year. And David’s still playing Futures this week in Venezuela, so more rankings improvements are on the near horizon.

So how does he play? Loudly. Witness:

As can be the case with PTW selections, oftentimes the players are still far enough off the radar that good examples of their playing styles are still lacking on the YouTube.  So you’ll have to all just take my word for this scouting report, you sorry suckers. (For all you know, I can just be making this up.) *diabolical laugh*

For a big guy (he’s listed at 189cm or 6’3” but is taller than that), he moves decently if not well and tries to dictate and get on the offensive quickly. Not your typical South American clay courter/dustballer by any means (in fact, his record is much better on hard courts), and a great competitor even when he loses his mind (he’s won 70% of matches in which he loses one set and/or his mind).  But he’s mellowed some with age, for sure.

Now Really, Is This The Face of An On-Court Hellion?*

Now Really, Is This The Face of An On-Court Hellion?*

I saw him play some at Guayaquil, and he’s gotten stronger and more consistent, with even better first-strike instincts. His serve isn’t quite the weapon it should be. Or, rather, it’s a latent weapon – fully assembled and functional, but awaiting deadlier ammo.

I think a lot is riding on his start to next year, and he seems to sense that too.  I asked him what his schedule is for next year, and he replied that — after an extended preseason training block in January (he’s never played the Australian Open, and that won’t change in 2014) — he’ll play Bucaramanga, Panama, Vina del Mar and Buenos Aires quals, followed by the Mexico and Salinas Challengers.  A nice mix of challs and ATP 250s, I think, and it’s a big step up in level from his usual beginning-of-the-year routine.

Souto’s never really come out of the blocks at full speed, and as he looks to break into the Top 200 and beyond, it’ll be important that he not tread water for the the first few months of 2014.  But if he can do that, watch out.