Since October 2018, Cristian Garin managed to win eight professional titles, all on clay courts. First, it was three consecutive Challenger events in a row (Sao Paulo, Santo Domingo, Lima), then four ATP 250s, and a 500 title at Rio last year. The Chilean has been struggling to translate that form into the bigger clay-court events though, mainly because of not getting a chance to play enough yet. But with his opening round struggles at this year’s Roland Garros, another question arises–is Garin mentally ready to conquer Paris (or at least reach the second week)?
Cristian Garin Career Path
Most of the Chilean’s titles have come in South America, but he’s no stranger to success on European soil. Aside from a title at Munich two years ago, Garin is also a former Roland Garros champion in boys’ singles category. Eight years ago, he eliminated players such as Laslo Djere, Cameron Norrie, and Borna Coric to reach the final in Paris, ultimately defeating Alexander Zverev 6-4 6-1 to win a junior Grand Slam title having just turned 17.
Lacking big-time matches on clay
Back in 2019, his ranking was not yet high enough to be accepted into Madrid or Rome. His first senior appearance in the main draw of the French Open finished with a very straightforward loss to Stan Wawrinka in the second round. The year after, lots of clay-court events had to be called off because of the pandemic. Garin lost early to Borna Coric in Rome, but was looking very dangerous in Hamburg, falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals. A third-round exit at the French Open wasn’t much of a disappointment, but a clay-court player of this quality should have shown much more in the loss to Karen Khachanov. With the draw Garin has this year, another exit at this stage would be a failure.
The Chilean was very solid in the warm-ups, reaching the quarterfinals at Madrid and scoring a second top 10 victory of his career over then World No. 3 Daniil Medvedev. Drawn at Roland Garros into a section with the aforementioned Russian and Grigor Dimitrov as the only higher seeds, it felt like a massive opportunity that Garin wouldn’t want to pass up.
The art of survival
But it looks like the big stage and perhaps the awareness of the favorable draw have taken its toll on the Chilean. First up, he had to take on Juan Ignacio Londero, a player in absolutely dreadful form this year, with just two wins and 12 losses under his belt. Garin was visibly nervous from the get-go, and if it wasn’t for a comeback from 0-4 in the third set, Londero would have secured a two sets to one lead.
The second-round meant a battle against one of the most impressive qualifiers, Mackenzie McDonald. With his back against the wall, Garin was able to save two match points in a third set tie-break and come back to win the match in five, despite looking a lot more tired than the American at the business end of an over four-hour clash.
It’s been a very polarizing campaign from Garin–he’s not able to play his best tennis and clearly has to fight off nerves, but once things aren’t looking great, he manages to pull himself together. Perhaps his good performance under pressure shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially once you look up the ATP Under Pressure Leaderboards. This rating takes four different aspects into consideration–break points converted, break points won, tie-breaks won, and deciding sets won. Looking at performance on clay in his whole career, Garin finds himself on the 10th spot there, just behind Casper Ruud and just in front of Dominic Thiem. The former is everyone’s dark horse for this year’s French Open, the latter a two-time runner-up of the event.
Now or never?
The draw from heaven continues as Garin will now face Marcos Giron, an unseeded American who benefitted from Dimitrov’s retirement. Giron has improved a lot in the past two years or so, but he’s still lacking big-time experience on the surface, with this being basically his second full clay-court season. For such an exquisite clay-courter like Garin, this is an opportunity that he has to take. Should he finally overcome the nerves and play up to his potential in Paris, he will also need to preserve energy in that one. One of Medvedev or Reilly Opelka will be his fourth-round opponent. To have a shot at beating them, the Chilean will need to be in top physical shape. One thing’s clear though–anything below a fourth-round exit and Cristian Garin will not go home satisfied.
Main Photo from Getty.