Our ninth Player to Watch for 2014 is the third 17-year-old to be featured in these here pages. For all the (rightful) talk of the Top 100’s average age increasing to 27, and the recent difficulty for any teens to break through in the men’s ranks, this trio of 1996-borners* has really been Doing Things at the pro level this year.
And it’s not because they’re particularly physically precocious either, which makes their 2013 achievements all the more impressive — and, of course, bodes well for when/if they eventually are at their corporeal peak.
I chose Mr. Ninth Player in part because my picks have been too Eurocentric so far; six of the eight PTWs to date are Euros, with only one South American and one Australian. And, with the Christmas holidays growing ever nearer, it just seemed right that we have a Christian on the roster. #logic
Therefore, it is with much(o) gusto that I present my penultimate Player to Watch for 2014, Christian Garin.
Though many first learned of him through his unseeded red clay sweepage of Roland Garros this year, losing only one set and beating the 3rd, 4th and 8th seeds on his way to the title, the ATPeerers among us took notice of his fine play at the ATP 250 event in Viña del Mar, where he beat Dusan Lajovic and took a set from third seed Jeremy Chardy before succumbing in the second round**.
Hereafter follows some highlights of that Chardymatch in which you can learn, among other things, that Christian could use some more practice with his forehand return of serve:
But you can also see that, while not quite at a Gonzo level of gusto, Garin can also crank his favorite stroke up to a near-Fernando forehandular ferocity, which is something he may have picked up from his pal and legendary countryman, Fernando Gonzalez.
Gonzo, by the way, has not ruled out a return to the courts for the South American games in Santiago next October, but only in doubles and only if he can play with Christian.
As all Players to Watch apparently must do in 2013***, Garin also practiced with Rafael Nadal at Viña (and additionally signed with Nadal’s manager, Carlos Costa, on the strength of his performance there – although whether from practice or match-play is unclear at this time), a heady experience for the then-16-year-old.
In April, a month shy of his 17th birthday, he became the youngest Chilean to ever play Davis Cup, albeit in a tough loss to Ecuador in which Garin lost the live fifth rubber to Emilio Gomez.
Later that month, the still-16-year-old reached his first pro final at the Chile F3 Futures, losing to James Duckworth in a quick match whose entire duration is available in spectacularly shaky low-definition on YouTube. Here’s a taste (WARNING: the cinematography here is very like the end of Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips, so you might wanna take some dramamine before viewing):
There are some pretty darn amusing moments in this particular stretch of video, but I don’t want to spoil them for you. All I feel comfortable doing is strongly recommending that you watch. Thus: watch! (I strongly recommend it.)
He also took the doubles title there with his frequent doubles co-conspirator, Nicolas Jarry, with whom he had won the Orange Bowl at the end of 2012.
In May, as an Old Man of Seventeen, he reached the final of another Futures at the Italy F10 (for which video, shaky or otherwise, is sadly unavailable) but couldn’t make it over the finish line against Guido Andreozzi. Since Duckworth and Andreozzi are both Top 150 talents, however, there was no reason to hang his head over these two defeats.
Indeed, head unhung, he went on to win his Roland Garros Junior French Championships crown right after that. He also reached the doubles final of that selfsame event with the aforementioned Mr. Jarry.
He had received a wild card to play another ATP tourney in Bastad, but had to pull out due to an ankle sprain incurred at Wimbledon, when he slipped in the second set during his match against Maximilian Marterer.
El Tanque**** rebounded from that setback soon after, however, making runs through the quallies to reach the second round at the Sao Paulo Challenger, where he lost to top seeded Joao Souza, and the quarterfinals at the Rio de Janeiro chally, where he beat another Top 200 talent, Marco Trungelliti, along the way.
He capped off his year with the kiddies by making the semis of the US Open, where he lost to the scandalously PTW-excluded Thanasi Kokkinakis in three sets. Here’s some slo-mo video that may or may not be from that match:
Christian’s fall results were just fair-to-middlin’, though he did notch a somewhat compromised win over third-seeded Pere Riba at the Lima Challenger, when Riba retired down 0-3 in the final set.
His goal at the start of the year was to crack the Top 550 in the ATP rankings. Instead, his crack level of play resulted in a rise almost 550 spots from #924 at the start of the year to his career high of #383 on the 18th of November.
He expects to be in the main draw of Vina del Mar again in February. And, he says, his dream is to do something important there because it’s the most important Chilean tourney. (“Mi sueño es poder hacer algo importante ahí, porque es el torneo más importante de Chile.”)
Because of his close connection to guys like Gonzo and Rafa, you can expect many more wildcards to come Christian’s way — which may or may not be a good thing. We gonna see.
*Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios and today’s pick.
**Actually, I’m lying: everyone was paying attention to Viña del Mar this year, for some reason…
***It almost seems to be a requirement at this point, doesn’t it?
****Even though his ATP profile says his nickname is “Tatan”, he insists that only family call him that, so pro tip: don’t call him that. Instead go for the more generally agreed upon “El Tanque” aka “The Tank”.