Player spotlight: Pablo Cuevas

Winning two ATP World Tour titles in two weeks is generally a feat reserved for Top Ten players or those athletes with incredible physical stamina and consistent gameplay. The grueling nature of tennis, requiring players to play consecutive matches nearly every day with little to no rest between tournaments, often beats players down, emotionally and physically. Often this results in phenomenal performances one week followed by sub-par results the next, sabotaging players’ chances in multi-tournament play.

Before July 7, Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas was just another lowly ranked, aging tennis player with no ATP World Tour singles titles to his name, a struggling journeyman not unlike many other lesser ranked competitors on the Tour. At the age of 28, the Argentine-born player had never made it beyond the second round of any Grand Slam singles tournament, and apart from a number of doubles titles, including an unexpected French Open doubles victory in 2008, he had not made much of an impact in the greater tennis world.

The July conquest

Then, seeded into the Swedish Open in Båstad with a Protected Ranking on July 7, Cuevas began working some singles magic never before glimpsed in his career. In the space of one short week, he dispatched sixth-seed Jérémy Chardy in the first round, third-seed Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals, and fifth-seed João Sousa in the finals, securing his first ATP World Tour 250 title. The Uruguayan only dropped one set in his run to the top, to Swedish wild card Christian Lindell in the second round, defeating highly-ranked contenders with ease.

A week later, with no time wasted celebrating his victory, Cuevas was in Umag for the 25th edition of the Croatia Open. Despite winning a title a week earlier, Cuevas was still forced to qualify for the main draw of the tournament. He handily defeated his three opponents in straight sets, without much of an issue.

Cuevas’ performance in Croatia was perhaps even more spectacular than his Swedish escapade, as the Uruguayan successfully overcame even higher ranked opponents with little to no exertion. In the second round, Cuevas dispatched sixth-seed Andreas Seppi in straight sets, “bageling” the baffled Italian in the second set, 6-1.

In the semifinals, Cuevas defeated top seed Fabio Fognini in straight sets, proceeding to the finals of his second ATP World Tour final in two weeks. Facing off against defending champion and second-seed Tommy Robredo, Cuevas made short work of his Spanish opponent, winning the tournament and his second singles title in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4.

Hope for the future

By winning two titles in two weeks, Cuevas moved into the upper echelon of the Top 50 with a newly minted rank of World No. 40, the best standing of his career. Though some critics have dismissed the Uruguayan’s victories as inconsequential, pointing out that the titles were mere ATP 250 events with few highly-ranked contenders in the mix, Cuevas’ conquests should not go unnoted.

The last player on the Tour to win consecutive titles in a two-plus week span was Novak Djokovic, current World No. 1. The Serbian managed to win the Indian Wells and Miami Masters 1000 events back-to-back in March of this year. The challenge of winning two consecutive events is a feat not often accomplished at any level of play, and Cuevas should be praised and watched closely for his dual clay court triumphs.

With the US Open around the corner, Cuevas may likely be seeded into the main draw of this Grand Slam, and may be able to capitalize on his recent success to provide a strong showing in Flushing Meadows. His success against players like Robredo and Fognini has shown that he has the talent necessary to produce powerful results, and should he be in top form, it is not unlikely to expect a solid fourth round showing for the Uruguayan.

Dark horse contenders like Cuevas are the lifeblood of tennis, providing unexpected challenges to the status quo that break up the monotony of the Big Four’s constant domination. Pablo Cuevas is simply one of a vast number of highly-qualified athletes with a desire to succeed. Perhaps the future holds new opportunities for unexpected contenders in the major and minor tournaments of the Tour.

Andrew Eissen, senior editor of Three for Ten Sports, serves as chief tennis analyst.

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