Nicolas Jarry: Gazing into an Unknown

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When Nicolas Jarry beat Alexander Zverev in the second round of the ATP 500 event in Barcelona this week, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(5), it was a triumphant moment for a player who has been dogged by inconsistency. The early-spring slump that had dogged Jarry was a distant memory, Nicolas back in the form which saw him catapult up the rankings last year.

However, winning this third set tiebreak over the No. 3 player in the World must have felt especially good given Jarry’s third set tiebreak loss to Roberto Carballes Baena this year at the ATP 500 event in Rio in the midst of Jarry’s major early-season slump.

The Chilean had three match points in that tiebreak against Carballes Baena, including one on his own serve. But, Jarry’s nervy, erratic play got the best of him, as he was unable to close out the Spaniard and lost 7-6(6) in the tiebreak, prolonging his misery. So, today must have felt pretty good for Jarry. A third-set tiebreak against Carballes Baena might have extended Jarry’s melancholy season, but his third-set tiebreak win against Zverev gave his season life.

However, Jarry’s ATP Tour story doesn’t start with some third set tiebreak against Carballes Baena or Zverev. After toiling away on the ATP Futures Tour and ATP Challenger Tour, Jarry burst onto the scene last year when he made the semifinals in Rio, which included wins over Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pablo Cuevas. Following his win over Cuevas in the quarterfinals, Jarry said, “…My goal is to play the whole year ATP events.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nyu9dpqnCj0)

Jarry then the final of the ATP 250 event in Sao Paolo. After some more solid wins in the lead up to the final, he was one set away from his first ATP Tour title, winning the first set in the Sao Paolo final over Fabio Fognini 6-1, before ultimately losing the match in three sets. From there, Jarry continued to have a decent season, making the semifinals of a couple more ATP clay court events. It seemed as if he was establishing himself as a solid player on the ATP Tour, making good on his goal to play at the ATP Tour level only for the rest of the season.

But, this season had been a bit of a mess for the Chilean. Coming into Barcelona, Jarry had a 2-7 record in ATP Tour events this season (not including a Challenger nor Davis Cup) and had not won an ATP Tour match in two tournaments on clay, the surface in which he had his breakthrough.

And, if it wasn’t for a lucky loser, Jarry wouldn’t have even made the main draw of Barcelona, as he lost in the final qualifying round to Marcel Granollers in a match where he lost despite serving for the match. But, as fate had it, he ended up drawing Granollers again in the main draw, and this time came out with a tight three-set victory. He then followed this up with today’s win over Zverev.

So, let’s dive into Jarry’s game, specifically the streaky nature of his style of play. Jarry plays an aggressive, high-risk game. He serves big and he goes big on his groundstrokes, especially his forehand. It’s interesting that, despite having much of his ATP Tour success revolving around clay courts, Jarry’s game is not a typical of a player who’s best results are on clay. Usually, clay courters’ games revolve around consistency and high margins, and for those who have watched a lot of Jarry, one knows that consistency and high margins are not how Nicolas plays.

Jarry typically goes for a bigger serve, he has a topspin forehand but he is trying to really hit through the court with his groundstrokes, as opposed to work his opponent around and look for his opening.

What does this have to do with his results, both today and throughout the past year or so? The high-risk, low margin tennis that is Jarry’s game leads to higher variability in his results. It makes sense, as when those big groundstrokes and serves are landing in, then his game can be incredibly effective. However, when those shots are landing out, then Jarry is a disaster out on court.

And confidence is so important when a player is taking more risk on her/his groundstrokes. Low confidence can result in over-hitting, and ultimately losing streaks, which I suspect is what happened to Jarry earlier this season. He really takes cuts on his backhands and especially his forehands, if he is feeling unconfident and not in control of his game, then his game can become wild.

So, where does Jarry go from here? Does he build on his win over Zverev or revert back to his play earlier this season? To be honest, it’s hard to know.

Watching a Nicolas Jarry match is equivalent to the feeling of when you gaze into an unknown. Viewers never quite know what to expect on a given day when Jarry takes the court. Will his groundstrokes find the mark, like today? Or will he be totally erratic, which has plagued him in losses in this season? It’s hard to tell.

Jarry is a player with so much raw talent. When’s he playing well, his ball-striking ability puts him towards the top of the tour. However, while his ceiling is high, his floor is low, and in order to truly contend on a consistent basis, he will have to rein in his game a little bit.

But, until Nicolas does that, it’s hard to say how his career will turn out. He will almost certainly have more wins today, where his game comes together and he’s able to beat players much higher in the rankings. But, there will also be days such as his 6-2, 6-0 loss to Kyle Edmund in the second round of Indian Wells, where he struggles to find the consistency necessary to succeed on the tour.

And maybe that’s all we should expect from him. A gifted player that can beat almost anyone on his day, but who might not be a mainstay at the latter end of ATP Tour tournaments.

And that’s ok, most players aren’t regulars in the late stages of those tournaments anyways.

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