What's at stake at Roland-Garros 2021?
Chile’s top player has the clay credentials to make a deep run at a major for the first time
Since breaking new ground as a teenager, Cristian Garin – the Chilean nicknamed “El Tanque”, or The Tank – felt his career barely lifted out of low gear for the ensuing six years.
After adding a fifth career title to start this season, however, the 24-year-old will have an eye on breaking his second week duck at a Grand Slam.
After contesting the Delray Beach Open in January, Garin announced on an Instagram story post he would be forced to miss the Australian Open after suffering a wrist injury in a fall.
Strict quarantine measures proved too difficult to bring his physiotherapist to Melbourne for the rehabilitation required.
To compound his disappointment, Garin tested positive for coronavirus in Chile.
“I had a fever one day, then I was very tired for about five days, with very little energy and luckily it was not more than that. But obviously it was the scare of having had it,” he told Chilean news site Emol.
“It was difficult to train again and especially because the tournament in Buenos Aires was very much on top of me. But luckily I didn't have such a bad time. It was three or four hard days.”
Garin conceded he was still not at 100 per cent after he had made a meek departure at the opening hurdle on his tour return in Buenos Aires in March.
In a remarkable measure of grit, however, he still managed to snare a first title on home soil in Santiago over Facundo Bagnis the following week.
It was the fifth of his career – all on clay – and he was the first Chilean to triumph at a home event since one of his idols Fernando Gonzalez did in 2009.
“My biggest objective has always been to keep winning titles, but I was not expecting to win in Chile after the way we started the year,” Garin said.
“I always kept on training and staying positive, and I’m so happy that it’s paid off."
Six barren years after his first tour-level match win, Garin won his second at the 2019 Brasil Open and the pressure valve released. He reached his first tour final at that event and two months later, his first trophy followed in Houston.
Pre-pandemic, Garin claimed his opening 10 matches on clay in 2020 to collect trophies at the Cordoba Open and his biggest to date, the ATP 500 event in Rio de Janeiro. Of those 10 matches, he bounced back from a set down on five occasions.
He knew he was in with a real shot against clay-averse Daniil Medvedev – at the time the world’s No.3 – when the pair crossed paths in Madrid earlier this month. Garin sprung the upset – on paper at least – in three sets to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter-final.
It was the second time he had the measure of the world’s third best player. In 2019, on his way to the Munich title he pulled off a three-set upset of two-time defending champion Alexander Zverev.
“It means a lot. It’s so nice to play with a crowd again. I feel the difference,” Garin said in an on-court interview in Madrid. “It was a very tough match for me. I think one of the best wins of my career, so I’m very happy... Daniil is one of the players I like to watch. He is one of the players who is the future of the sport.”
Garin makes no secret of how long it took him to find his feet and the challenge of gelling with the right coach.
After stints living in Barcelona and Mallorca, where he trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy, he moved to Los Angeles to trial working with Larry Stefanki. The acclaimed US coach had worked with John McEnroe and Andy Roddick, as well as two of Garin’s most successful compatriots – former world No.1 Marcelo Rios and former No.5 Gonzalez.
It wasn’t to be. Two years ago, he returned to South America and teamed up with Argentine coach Andres Schneiter and upon moving home to Santiago the partnership really began to pay off.
Having cracked the top 20 and with four tour titles to his name, Garin revealed in January he had hired another Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro’s former coach, Franco Davin, late in 2020.
“I took the decision four months ago, and now I’m working with Franco,” Garin said. “We’ve been working really, really good. … He’s so professional, he knows what to do, he knows how to organise the practice and he always gives me good feedback.”
The Chilean knows what it takes to go all the way in Paris, having captured the boys’ singles title over Zverev eight years ago for his sole junior Grand Slam trophy.
It ensured Garin’s name was up in lights in 2013, following a dream three-month stretch, which began in the February before his Roland-Garros exploits.
It was then, as a 16-year-old playing before his home crowd in Vina del Mar, he won his first tour-level match on debut against Dusan Lajovic.
Following victory over top seed Diego Schwartzman to claim last year’s Cordoba Open, Garin spoke of a more streamlined focus, which helped change his fortunes.
“I was working well two years ago, in tennis and fitness, above all on court,” Garin told atptour.com.
“But maybe the difference was starting to dedicate myself 100 per cent to my career and to tennis, which I didn’t do before. The changes were significant and the results amazing.”