There was a moment, late in the second set of his Rogers Cup match against Finland’s crafty Jarkko Nieminen, when Filip Peliwo thought all was lost.
On match point of what looked to be a routine straight-sets victory for him, Nieminen had the young Canadian essentially at his mercy, Peliwo having come into the net during the rally and leaving himself vulnerable with what he later described as “a pretty lame volley.”
But Peliwo thrust up his racquet at a smoking return and made the sort of backhand, reflex volley that is one part good instincts and four parts good luck. The ball ricocheted up and over and fell gently into the court for a winner – and the match was never the same.
Peliwo’s confidence grew and Nieminen, who’d strained a hamstring earlier in the second set, found it progressively more difficult to move around the court.
Down a break in the third set, Nieminen retired in the fifth game, giving the Vancouver native the biggest win of his professional tennis career, officially by a 3-6, 7-5, 3-1 (retired) count.
The fact Peliwo didn’t need to close it out on the court took nothing away from the moment, however. The 2012 Wimbledon junior champion received a direct wild-card entry to the Rogers Cup only because France’s Gaël Monfils pulled out last week, meaning this was his first match in a Masters 1000 event. He made the most of it, too, in front of a small but supportive crowd on an outside court, scrambling to get back in a match that looked hopeless early on.
Peliwo put his struggling start down to a case of nerves, noting: “I went out there trying to tell myself, ‘You have nothing to lose, this guy is ranked way ahead of you, this is your first Rogers Cup, just swing, go for it.’ But I was tight, really tight. I couldn’t get anything going. I was missing a lot and just couldn’t relax.
“I knew I had to stay with it mentally and not freak out and not give up and not get angry at myself. But the biggest thing was just to keep fighting.”
Peliwo is 19, a virtual babe in the world of professional tennis, where he is predictably finding life is far more difficult than on the junior circuit.
Many former Wimbledon junior champions fade into obscurity and never quite carry their early promise into a pro career. Peliwo is aware of this and will tell you the first part of his season was a struggle – minimal successes on the Futures tour, plus an ankle sprain that kept him out a month.
“Until about a month ago, I was just making back points to get back the ranking I was at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I struggled a bit with my game. Things were coming together, like my serve was getting better, the next week my ground game was good and my serve was not working. It was all coming in cycles. A few weeks ago, it all came together as a unit and that’s where I’m trying to keep it.”
Peliwo’s next opponent will be Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, who upset the No. 16 seed, Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia, in the opening round. If Peliwo gets past Istomin, the world’s No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic, looms in the third round.
Istomin has been playing well of late, but Peliwo believes he can play his second Rogers Cup match far looser than he did his first.
“I think getting through this match really helps with that,” he said. “We won’t know until I get out, obviously. But I think that just gave me a taste of what it’s like and also showed me that I can’t play tight or I’m going to lose.”