What Now for Juan Pablo Varillas?

Juan Pablo Varillas
Spread the love

In tennis, winning can be contagious. Sure, every week is a clean slate, but the positive vibes and momentum can carry on from tournament to tournament. Once a player gets into a good rhythm, that doesn’t go away on the plane ride to the next tournament.

Last year, the tennis world saw a 22 year-old Cristian Garin rip through, the fall clay court Challenger swing. Garin won 15 matches in a row to win the Campinas, Santo Domingo, and Lima Challengers during the fall of the 2018. He beat many good clay courters during that swing, including Juan Ignacio Londero, Hugo Dellien, and Federico Delbonis twice.

Garin was able to use these Challengers as a springboard for his 2019 ATP campaign. Before Campinas last year, he was World No. 141. By the end of the Challenger clay swing, he was World No. 89, into the top 100 for the first time, and better suited to make the jump into ATP events.

In 2019, Garin reached as high as World No. 32, and is currently sitting at World No. 38. He has won two ATP titles this season, clay court events in Houston and Munich, and made the third in an indoor clay event in Sao Paolo. Garin was able to use the snowballing momentum and form that brought him to those Challenger titles and parlay those into a successful season on the ATP Tour the following season.

24 year-old Juan Pablo Varillas’ experience in the clay court Challenger swing felt very much like deja vu. Much like Garin, Varillas went on a 15-match winning streak during this later portion of the season, although he “only” won the Campinas and Santo Domingo Challengers and made the semifinals of Lima (losing to Thiago Monteiro). Varillas beat good clay courters during this stretch, such as Federico Delbonis, Thiago Monteiro (in Santo Domingo), and Facundo Bagnis twice.

What Now for Juan Pablo Varillas?

Varillas’ forehand is bigger and heavier than Garin’s, although his backhand is not near Garin’s level. His spin-heavy serve allows him to dictate with his forehand from the back of the court. Varillas was also very clutch, winning all seven sets through the three tournaments that were 7-5 or 7-6 in score. Whether that’s sustainable or not is another question, but it’s still impressive.

Varillas started this Challenger stretch both older and lower-ranked than Garin. Before Campinas, Varillas was World No. 332. He’s rose to a career high of World No. 155 this week. Varillas has risen nearly 200 places in the rankings in less than a month.

But, alas, all good things have to come to an end. Monteiro defeated Varillas in straight sets in the semifinals of Lima. This loss brought the Peruvian back down to earth and slowed his momentum, leading to the question: Can he continue to rise in the ranks of the tennis world?

After Garin won Lima last year, he shut his season down and did not play until Brisbane the following season. However, Varillas is not taking that approach. Varillas is set to play in the clay court Challenger in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he is the No. 12 seed.

This desire to keep playing could be due to the fact that Garin was much higher up in the rankings both before and after his run in Lima last year, so he felt less of a need to keep pushing. The Peruvian, however, sitting just outside of the top 150 in the World, is presumably looking to sap any points he can out of the end of the season, and is even more inclined to do so due to his form.

Varillas is able to do this while playing a very clay-heavy schedule. He never played on grass all season. While he did have success on hard courts at the $15K level, he only played two matches on hard that were above $15K. At the Morelos and Racanati Challengers, Varillas went 0-2 and won a total of one set.

Part of “graduating” to the ATP Tour means playing a more balanced schedule, so Varillas will have to be prepared to play fewer clay tournaments and much more on hard courts, although grass court play can be avoided. Garin has done well enough on hard and grass, so that they don’t significantly hurt his ranking, while thriving in multiple clay court events, where all of his ATP finals come from.

Another player to compare to

When looking at players from a purely game style viewpoint, Varillas’ game brings less comparisons with Cristian Garin and more with Juan Ignacio Londero. Londero’s heavy spin serve and forehand, along with the way he positions himself on the court, are reminiscent of Varillas’ game and court positioning within the points.

Londero, in his transition from the Challenger Tour to the main ATP Tour, has had a lot of success. Londero made the shift in level of tournament when, in his home country, he won the early February ATP Tour title in Cordoba, Argentina. Before Cordoba, Londero had spent much of 2018 building his ranking at Challenger events, but with no run like Garin or Varillas.

From the first time the rankings came out in February until now, Londero was able to improve his ranking from World No. 112 to a career high of World No. 51. What Londero’s success shows is that the type of game that Varillas plays is able to thrive on the ATP Tour.

Varillas can take comfort from the success of both Garin and Londero, but ultimately his story hasn’t been written yet. The Peruvian’s accomplishments in Campinas, Santo Domingo, and Lima have set him up for a successful 2019 season. Guayaquil and any other tournaments he play this season can only help.

But, it’s up to Varillas to prove he can grow from these triumphs and beat ATP Tour-level opposition. Varillas will also have to deal with heightened exposure and expectations that come from consistently winning matches.

However, given Varillas’ level of play during his fall clay court Challenger surge, expect to see Varillas in the main draw of ATP Tour events during the 2020 season.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images