The hard road of professional tennis went through Filip Peliwo's home turf on Tuesday night – and it ended in defeat, as it often will as the winner of junior Wimbledon competes for a place in the pro game.
Peliwo, who grew up in North Vancouver, returned home this week to play in his biggest pro tournament to date, the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, a second-tier event where the top seeded player is ranked No. 102 in the world.
Peliwo is 18 and not yet done on the junior circuit, where his star has emerged this year. He made but lost the junior finals on the hard court of the Australian Open and the clay of the French Open. Then, in July, he won junior Wimbledon, the first Canadian male to ever do so, joining a list of boy winners that includes Roger Federer.
On Tuesday night, however, Peliwo went down in the first round of the $200,000 Vancouver Open. Taking on Jimmy Wang, a 27-year-old from Taipei ranked No. 211, Peliwo lost 7-6 (4), 6-0. Peliwo was down early in the first set, 4-2, before clawing back for a tie break, which he lost. And then Wang, who reached No. 85 in the world six years ago, powered through the second set.
Both players had a weak first serve – each of them winning just 52 per cent of points. But Peliwo's second serve was particularly weak and his game wasn't enough to take on Wang.
The evening is exactly the sort of challenge Peliwo faces as he makes the hard transition from the junior game – where he played against another boy his age – to professional tennis, where his opponent will often be a seasoned veteran with years of experience. A similar situation to the Vancouver Open unfolded in Granby, Quebec two weeks ago in a $50,000 ATP Challenger event, a category in which Peliwo will play as he tries to climb the rankings. Peliwo lost in the first round, a tight match – 6-4, 7-6 (6) – to 30-year-old Roman Borvanov of Moldova, No. 265 in the world.
"Eventually," Peliwo said in an interview last week of the Granby tournament, "I'll start winning those matches."
Peliwo – currently ranked No. 620 – is the next potential Canadian male tennis star, following close behind 21-year-old Milos Raonic (the highest ranked Canadian singles player ever, at No. 23 in the world) and 22-year-old Vasek Pospisil (No. 87, who won the Granby tournament).
For now, Peliwo's focus is a blend of pro and junior. He had a wild card entry into the main draw of the Vancouver Open and later this week will play in qualifying at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The junior U.S. Open will follow in September, where Peliwo aims to recapture the No. 1 junior ranking, which he held after Wimbledon, the first Canadian to reach that pinnacle. Over the weekend, Peliwo slipped to No. 2 among juniors, as Kimmer Coppejans of Belgian won the European junior championships and rose to the No. 1 spot.
The different pace of progression from junior to pro can be seen on the women's side. Peliwo's peer is Eugenie Bouchard, who won junior girls Wimbledon in July ahead of Peliwo's win (Bouchard was also the first Canadian woman to win the singles title). But unlike Peliwo, Bouchard, from Montreal, has already begun her ascent in the pros, ranked No. 285 among women. In Granby, where she was seeded 26th of 32 players, she won the tournament, beating 25-year-old Stephanie Dubois of Laval, Que. (ranked No. 127 ahead of Granby) in the final.
Bouchard is currently in Washington, D.C., at the Citi Open, a big-time event on the pro circuit. She has a wildcard entry to the main draw. Peliwo had been offered the same but declined, in part because he and his coaches didn't feel he was ready, and because there was a tournament at home in Vancouver at the same time. Bouchard has kept up her winning ways in Washington, with a first-round 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over 25-year-old Karin Knapp, No. 121. Bouchard plays her second-round match Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET versus Olga Govortsova, a 23-year-old from Minsk, Belarus who is No. 82 on the women's tour.
For Peliwo, in the next year after the U.S. Open, the key will be to stay healthy as he develops his game, according to his father Mark Peliwo, Filip's coach in his early years. They will seek out tournaments where Filip can build up his ranking points – "The main thing is to get a few good results, and get on a roll," Filip said in the interview last week – and take in training camps to get daily hitting experience with pros.
His dad well remembers the daily 6 a.m. practices six years ago, when father and son would drive from their Vancouver townhome to the nearby North Shore Winter Club. The father was impressed by his boy's work ethic then and is confident Filip can make the next, hard and long leap to the pros.
"He's proved," said Mark Peliwo in a recent interview, "that whenever the next step comes, he's willing to do more."