Juan Ignacio Londero raised his arms into the air, a huge smile plastered on his face. Guido Pella had just hit a forehand into the net on match point, handing the then world #112 his first ATP Tour title, one he had won on the clay courts of Cordoba in his homeland Argentina.
It was a momentous, but quite shocking, week of tennis for Londero. He had never been in an ATP Tour final before and had only even been in a few ATP Challenger Tour finals (winning two of those events). In fact, he had never even won a single match at the ATP Tour level before this special week in Argentina.
Londero told the ATP after winning the title, “The truth is that I do not know what to tell you. It is an incredible feeling, for sure, and I did not expect to win the tournament. I came hoping to win one, two matches, even though I felt I was on a very good level.”
Well, even though it came as a shock to Londero himself, he rose into the top 70 in the World and seemed as if he was ready to make an impact during the ATP Tour’s clay court season.
And the Argentinian has been able to hang in the top 100 ever since, although lately largely aided by the pandemic’s effect on the ATP rankings. Later on that season, he made the fourth round at the 2019 French Open, before falling to Rafael Nadal and another final at an ATP event, this time in Bastad, where he lost to Chile’s Nicolas Jarry.
By the time the 2019 season was wrapping up, Juan Ignacio Londero was the world #50 and a mainstay on the ATP Tour.
Obviously, the pandemic made things difficult for many professional tennis players around the globe. But, with that said, Londero’s results from just before the pandemic until now have been dreadful. The last time that Londero won consecutive matches in a tournament was at the 2020 ATP 250 event in Buenos Aires. From 2020 Rio until now, Londero has been in a huge slump. A 20-tournament slump (not including Davis Cup).
His record from 2020 Rio until now is a 6-22 and he’s lost 14 of his past 16 matches. This season alone, he is 2-12, which includes a 0-2 record on hard court and a 2-10 record on his favorite surface, clay. Given where Londero was in 2019, these are quite shocking results. Over the course of his career, Londero has a 58% winning percentage on clay and a 45% winning percentage on hard courts, so while the limited hard court results might not be unexpected, the lack of success on the dirt is what is most disturbing for the Argentinian.
So, what made Londero so successful in the past and what is going on now?
What made Londero was his huge, heavy forehand and setting himself up to control the point with big first serves. In the 2019 Cordoba tournament, Londero never won less than 71% of his first serve points in any match that tournament. He won 77% of his first serves in the semifinals against Federico Delbonis and 87% of his first serves in the final versus Pella. A strong first serve gives Londero the chance to set up on his forehand, and thus, control the point.
However, Londero’s first serve isn’t as damaging as it used to be. In seven of his past eight matches, he had a first serve win percentage under 70%. In his most recent match against Leonardo Mayer at the Oeiras 3 Challenger, Londero won 63% of his first serves, 42% of his second serves, and was broken 5 times during the match. When the Argentinian loses confidence in his forehand, his game can also collapse. And it certainly seems like he’s lost his way on the forehand side, with his forehand much looser than it used to be. He doesn’t have the precision that defined that shot from 2018, when he went 2-1 in Challenger finals, into 2019, when he translated that success to the ATP Tour level.
Londero’s backhand is inconsistent, but ultimately good enough when the rest of his game is clicking. But, because his game isn’t coming together like it used to, his backhand has become just another deficient area of his game. Londero made a good decision when he chose to drop down from the ATP Tour level to the Challenger level in Oeiras. While it must not have been pleasant playing in his first Challenger match since January of 2019, it was a necessary step in his career. Clearly, his level isn’t at the standard necessary to play on the ATP Tour, so it was a great idea to go to a Challenger to regain his form and confidence.
And, while it didn’t work out in Oeiras with the first round loss to a tough opponent who is finding form in Leonardo Mayer, it was still the right decision to play the Challenger and hopefully Londero will continue with this trend coming up. He will get better draws and, more than likely, win some matches to help get his confidence and form back.
And he will need to be confident and playing good tennis as the French Open approaches. Londero won’t be able to stay in the top 100 forever with his current results and a run at the biggest clay court tournament on the planet would do him a world of good.
Londero’s round of 16 appearance at the 2019 edition of Roland Garros is still partially helping to prop up his ranking based on the special pandemic ranking system, so that makes having a respectable showing at this year’s event even more important.
We might not ever see the Juan Ignacio Londero of a couple years ago for a while longer, but that doesn’t mean that Londero can’t eventually get back to where he was. With more time against lower-level competition to get his forehand and serve honed in, re-calibrate the the depth he is looking for on the forehand, and get that winning feeling again consistently, Londero can climb back up the rankings once again.
But, with the pressure of the French Open and a loosening-grip on the top 100, it won’t be easy.
Main Photo from Getty.