The trip home from the Australian Open was so long that Filip Peliwo ended up sleeping through most of his 18th birthday.
But it was a happy time nonetheless for one of Canada’s top tennis prospects.
The Vancouver native was relaxed and smiling on Tuesday as he recounted three successful weeks Down Under, in which he won a junior tournament and then reached the boys singles final at the Australian Open.
“It’s obviously my best achievement so far and hopefully one of many to come,” Peliwo said as he met with the media at Montreal’s national tennis centre, which has been his training base for three years.
“It helps my confidence a lot. It makes me feel I can keep doing that, reaching the next final and winning this time. It’s my last year [as a junior] so I have to transition to the pros. I’ll try to keep improving my fitness and my tennis.”
Peliwo’s trip started with the biggest win of his career thus far – a tight, three-set victory over world No. 1 junior Luke Saville of Australia in the Traralgon final, a Group 1 junior event.
A week later, he faced Saville again in the Aussie Open final, only to lose in the third and final set.
“It was almost the exact same score line, only he won 6-4 in the third this time,” said Peliwo. “The previous match I saved a couple of match points, so it could have gone either way.
“That’s the way it goes sometimes. I played a little bit better the first match and he had the support in the second match in Melbourne. So it’s just one game in the third set that cost me. But that’s sport.”
He had lost in the first round of both tournaments a year earlier. This time, he arrived in Australia ranked 21st among juniors and left it ranked No. 5.
The biggest thrill was getting to play the final at Rod Laver Arena, on the same court where Novak Djokovic ended up beating Rafael Nadal in the men’s final.
He called it “an amazing experience.
“I’ve never played on a court so big in front of so many people. I could see myself up on the Jumbotron. There were a lot of people cheering, mostly for [Saville] but they were pretty good about cheering for me when I hit a good shot. It was a good experience. Hopefully I’ll have more chances to play on courts like that.”
The trip back to Montreal, through Sydney, Los Angeles and Toronto, was supposed to have him home by 8 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, but delays and a missed flight in Toronto didn’t get him home until late Monday night. His birthday on Monday was mainly spent snoozing on airplanes.
Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau watched all his matches in Melbourne and came back impressed.
Peliwo signalled that he had stepped up his game last autumn when he reached the semi-finals of the Dunlop Orange Bowl.
“He came close to being the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam,” said Laurendeau. “It was a great run for him.
“He’s our best prospect and it will be interesting for him to [make the]transition between the juniors and playing some Futures and Challenger events in 2012, as well as junior Grand Slams. He’s got a lot of tools that are necessary to make it. He’s still very green, but so far, so good.”
What stands out about Peliwo in an era of towering ball-smashers is he is slightly built at five foot 11 and 140 pounds. Laurendeau said appearances can be deceiving.
“He can hit the ball really hard and he surprised a lot of people,” he said. “I heard a lot of people comment on how hard he can hit for his size. And he’s only going to get bigger and stronger, so he’s got a good head start.”
Peliwo said he hoped to win at least one junior title at a Grand Slam this year, either the French and U.S. Opens or Wimbledon.
But he will also play more lower-level pro events, starting in late February. His goal is to be ranked in the top 500 by the ATP before turning pro for good next year. His overall goal, he said, is to be world No. 1 one day.
“The biggest thing is, physically I’ve been working hard and I’m getting my game together for tournaments, so even if I’m not playing well, I’m pulling through some tough matches,” he said. “I’m playing more consistently.
“Before I was erratic. I’d have a couple of good matches and a couple of really bad ones. And I’m starting to make a reputation for myself as well. It always helps going into a match with my opponent feeling pressure to really have to play well.”