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Cristian Garin: Rising Fast

You might never have heard of Christian Garin. And, it’s understandable. He’s from a non-traditional tennis country, Chile, and he’s played a lot more on the Challenger Tour than the ATP Tour. However, it’s time that the world take notice of Garin. Christian Garin has arrived.

This week has been very impressive for Garin. He is into the final of the ATP 250 event in Sao Paulo, which is a momentous occasion for someone formerly caught up in the web of the ATP Challenger circuit. Garin has had to beat some good players to make it this far. He started off the tournament with a win over Pedro Sousa, a player very adept to clay. He then took on Jaume Munar, who reached the Quarterfinals of both Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, and beat solid clay courters such as Marco Cecchinato, Federico Delbonis, Fabio Fognini, and Leonardo Mayer during the Golden Swing. Garin just beat Leonardo Mayer himself in the previous round, an accomplished, veteran player. In the semifinals he straight setted fellow young gun Casper Ruud 6-4 6-4.

I understand that the field of the ATP event in Sao Paulo is not particularly strong, but that doesn’t diminish what Garin has accomplished this week. ATP events, no matter the draw, have a certain level of fan support, pressure, points, and money involved that is just not seen at the Challenger level. The stakes are higher. And Garin has risen up to the challenge and has shown tremendous composure. When he was in a final set tiebreak with Munar this week, he could have crumbled. When he went down a set to a veteran like Leonardo Mayer today, he could have crumbled. But, he didn’t.

However, the makings of Garin’s rise, he is now at 78 in the live rankings and could rise as high as 60 with a title here, was formulated on the Challenger Tour. It was through trekking around to places such as Campinas Brazil, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Lima, Peru that has laid the building blocks for what Garin is accomplishing this year.

When Garin made the Final of a Challenger event in Cuernavaca, Mexico in February of last year, before losing in straight sets to Dennis Novikov, it had been a while since Christian had previously enjoyed such a success. Garin had only one Challenger win at that point, and that came in 2016 in a tight win over Guido Andreozzi. But suddenly, despite being on a hard court, Christian was back in a Final.

Garin continued to fight. He made the Final of a clay court Challenger event in Lisbon, coming one set away from the title against Tommy Roberdo. He qualified for Wimbledon, getting a set off of Mannarino in the First Round, and in early September he made the Final of another Challenger, this time in Como, Italy, before losing to Salvatore Caruso. However, Christian, at this point, still had only one Challenger title to show for it. That would change in October of last year.

Everything finally fell into place, and Christian Garin went on an absolute tear. He won three Challenger titles in the month of October, in Campinas, Santo Domingo, and Lima. In these three Challenger Finals, he dropped one set, beating Delbonis twice and Pedro Sousa once. But, it wasn’t only the titles that helped shape Garin’s winning mindset, and his game.

Think back to his Semifinals match in Sano Domingo against Carlos Berlocq. Berlocq is known as an absolute warrior on the tennis court, fighting for every point he can get, and putting it on his opponent’s shoulders to beat him. Garin was down 7-5, *5-4 (40-15) in that match. He was one point away from losing. Garin broke Berlocq, won the second set in a tiebreak, and went on to win the third set 6-1. As Garin told the ATP after this match, “…I was trying to be positive all the time, to keep fighting, to stay, I tried to stay in the match…” . Clearly, Garin does not give up easily.

Or what about his Quarterfinals match against Sao Paulo and Rio Quarterfinalist Hugo Dellien? Garin was down a set, and later, he was down 4-1 in the third set. He fought back and won that match 6-4 in the third set. Against Thiago Monteiro in the Semifinals of Lima, he was down a set and 3-2, with Monteiro having a break point to get the break in the second set. Christian saved the break point, broke Monteiro in the next game, and went on to win the match in three sets.

Garin’s great play is being overshadowed by Felix Auger-Aliassime’s breakthrough. Auger-Aliassime is only 18 years old, and last week was in the Finals of the ATP event in Rio, and this week is about to take on Laslo Djere for a spot in the Sao Paulo Semifinals. And Felix is playing great. He is hitting his spots on his serve, and using his forehand to overpower his opponents. All I ask is that you don’t forget about Garin. Yeah, he is 22 years old to Auger-Aliassime’s 18 years of age. But, Christian is very talented, hits with great power on both his forehand and backhand, and has a very solid serve. He is a fighter and someone who one can never count of a match, similar to Auger-Aliassime. However, while I think it is totally reasonable to cheer on Auger-Aliassime, don’t forget about Garin.

Christian has not had a perfect season, that’s a fact. He’s had two wins off of clay this season, and lost in the First Round of the Australian Open. However, if Garin can qualify for Wimbledon, then I don’t doubt his ability to adapt to his game to non-clay surfaces. And, on clay, Garin will be very dangerous, both now and when the European clay season begins after Miami.

As to why Garin is much better on clay compared to other surfaces, a few ideas come to mind. First, Garin’s movement is great. He is easily able to track balls down and become a wall from the back of the court when he needs to. Garin’s forehand also is so heavy, and with a lot of pace, although his backhand is extremely solid, as well.

But, what sticks out to me most is the direction that Garin is able to put on his shots.  On clay, you’re not going to just be able to hit through a player, you need to be able to consistently place your shots, as this is a big part of point construction on clay. If you are just trying to hit through the court on clay, without thinking about placement, then you are in big trouble. And this is what I think Christian does so well. The placement and variety of shot used can throw opponents off and give him the upper hand. Check out this shot the ATP put out from Garin in a clay court Challenger last year against Bourgue: he absorbs pace, tracking balls down, and when his opponent drop shots him, he is not only able to get to the ball, but is able to hit a re-dropper for the winner. Clearly, Garin knows how to construct points on clay.

Christian might win the title this week. He might not. But, whatever the result, the future is looking bright for Christian Garin.

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