As Thiago Tirante put a backhand into the net, Daniel Galan looked to his team with a clenched fist as he strolled up to the net.
Galan had secured a 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory over Tirante in the final of the Lima Challenger. It was a second career Challenger title for the Colombian, who had become an emerging force as the 2020 season wrapped up.
Following the coronavirus hiatus, Galan made the third round of the French Open (as a lucky loser). This included wins over Mario Vilella Martinez in qualifying and Tennys Sandgren in the main draw. Galan made the quarterfinals of Marbella, the semifinals of Cary (hard court) and Campinas, along with the title in Lima. His ranking at the end of the 2020 season was a career-high at World No. 115.
The Colombian certainly seemed surprised about his post-hiatus form. As he told the ATP’s staff, “During the quarantine, I was not able to practise that much. I started practising again in July, but I was just trying to get again in that rhythm that I was playing with before, that confidence…”
Now, if you look at his current ranking of World No. 116, you might be wondering what all of the fuss is about. However, Galan’s 2021 results show that he was not able to bring his 2020 form into the new year.
So, what happened?
Galan’s record this season is 3-5. He lost in the second round of the ATP event in Delray Beach to Hubert Hurkacz, the first round of the Istanbul Challenger to Menezes, then the first round of the Antalya Challenger to Santillan. After that he lost his second match in the second Antalya Challenger to Tabilo, and the second round of the Concepcion Challenger to Baez.
Galan has had a mix of bad draws and bad losses. However, given that at the end of 2020 Galan himself was a bad draw for other players, it is certainly surprising to see him not win two matches in a row almost two months into the new season.
What made Galan so successful last year was his big serve and controlled aggression. He would power in a well-placed, powerful serve and then control the baseline with groundstrokes that were both deep and cut through the court. This controlled aggression often produced short balls that Galan could capitalize on and put away.
Galan was still a little hesitant last season to follow these shorter balls into the net, but with the consistency, pace, and placement he was putting on his groundstrokes, it didn’t end up costing him too much.
However, this season, the potency of Galan’s serve and groundstrokes has decreased. In Delray Beach against Hurkacz, for instance, Galan only won 61% of his first serves and 30% of his second serves. In a 2-6 6-1 3-6 loss to Jozef Kovalik in Cordoba recently, Galan only won 57% of his service points.
Given that, for instance, when he beat Tirante in the Lima final he won 73% of his first serve points and 64% of his service points overall, or how when he beat Sandgren at the French Open he was winning 69% of his first serves and 74% of his overall service points, and you can start to see the difference in his serve.
But, Galan’s groundstrokes also look a bit weaker than they have been. The baseline game that featured, deep hard groundstrokes has devolved into roulette for whether or not the Colombian is going to make an unforced error. Against Kovalik, Galan often looked uncertain for how he wanted to construct points and the variety that came from the Kovalik knifing backhand slice threw him off.
Indeed, Galan has struggled lately against variety, where he’s not getting a consistent ball in his strike zone. In order to re-establish his game, he will need to increase his rally tolerance once again and not lose patience when, for example, Kovalik is throwing a bunch of slices at him or Baez is running around the court like a roadrunner getting a bunch of balls back.
While a 3-5 record isn’t the worst thing in the world, it is particularly striking when compared to other players who took their 2020 post-hiatus form and brought it into the new season. Players such as Francisco Cerundolo and 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev continue to prove themselves to the (tennis) world following such successful Challenger campaigns in 2020. And despite Galan’s success not quite at the level of the aforementioned players, there was certainly reasons to be optimistic about his game going into the season.
However, the season is still young, Galan will just need to make adjustments before taking the next step and making that push into the top 100, which seemed like a formality going into the year.
Next week, Daniel Galan will go on to play in the ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires. It’s important that Galan does a few things better heading into that event. First, the Colombian should emphasize first serve percentage and placement more than first serve speed. It’s important that he lands first serves and gets ahead in points.
Second, once Galan gets his first serves in, he needs to give himself a bit more margin on his groundstrokes. While last year he was able to balance consistency with seemingly higher-risk, deep powerful groundstrokes, at this time he should consider just adding a touch more topspin to his shots and really focusing on not giving away free points, which Galan did well in the second set against Kovalik.
And finally, as was actually the case last year as well, it would be best for Galan to go to the net a bit more. As mentioned previously, Galan doesn’t go to the net often enough on short balls and he could finish off points much more easily if he developed that instinct to go to the net.
Is it time for Daniel Galan to panic? No.
Is is disappointing that Galan isn’t having a better start to the year and are there ways for him to get back on track? Yes.
Daniel Galan clearly has the game to make the top 100 in the world. He’s so close now, it still feels as if he will make it to past that milestone soon.But, if Galan wants to continue on his path upwards in the tennis rankings, he will need to adjust and tighten up his game.
Galan, in that talk with the ATP, mentioned his confidence and how important it was for him. And that certainly must be playing a role in both his success in late 2020 and his plateau now.
The Colombian’s 2020 form didn’t just leave him, he just has to find, both his game and the clarity of mind that he showed in making that Grand Slam run and lifting that Challenger trophy, once again.
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