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Filip Peliwo plays against Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Uniprix Stadium on Aug 10, 2015 in Montreal.

Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports

When you get down to it, top-level tennis is basically a fist fight using other means. So never mind the reedy physique: Vancouver native Filip Peliwo has some scrap in him.

Down one set, trailing 2-5 in the second and facing three match points against Ukrainian veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky in the first round of the Rogers Cup, the 21-year-old could easily have packed his tent.

Instead, he started making shots.

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A devastating serve return here, a drop volley or ferocious forehand there, and suddenly he was waving his arms to wind up the crowd and celebrate a 7-5 second-set victory.

The 60th-ranked Stakhovsky – whose signal contribution to world tennis this season has been getting owned in a Twitter fight with Martina Navratilova after making a homophobic slur – would go on to win the third, the turning point coming when he broke Peliwo at love with the players knotted at 2-2.

"I gave him four mistakes – all he had to do there was to hit it in. That's where I'm disappointed," the wild-card entrant said.

The match was there for the taking. Peliwo showed off a good first serve (it topped out at 212 kilometres an hour) for a player who is undersized by modern standards, along with an abundance of canny shot-making from the baseline.

Instead of earning a second-round check and some precious ranking points, Peliwo leaves with a career lesson.

This is what it looks like when you're still at the apprenticeship stage in tennis. There are a few teenagers in the top couple of hundred players in the world – prodigies are prodigies – but there are a lot more players like Peliwo, a 21-year-old who is still finding his way.

"The thing about playing [tour veterans] … it makes it very clear to you what you did wrong and what you did well, what to stick with, what to fix for the next match," he said.

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Once ranked the No. 1 junior in the world – Peliwo was boys' champion at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2012 – the diminutive baseliner has made fitful progress since turning pro three years ago.

In the spring of 2014, Peliwo hit his career-high ranking of 223.

Then came a series of injuries. A widening rift with now-former coach Galo Blanco – who guided Milos Raonic to stardom – didn't help either.

He entered this week's tournament with a ranking of 526th.

"Honestly, he's much better than that – talent-wise, he's easily in the top 150. He's had injuries and some poor results," said Jocelyn Robichaud, the head coach of the National Tennis Centre's junior program.

But he's also at the age where he needs to start winning matches if his ambitions are to be fulfilled.

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"I've had flashes of really good tennis, but to keep it going has been difficult," Peliwo said after the match. "That was really a very difficult time to bounce back from, the summer of 2014. Really, I was completely rock bottom with confidence."

Shortly after Peliwo won the Wimbledon junior title, Raonic semi-joked with a group of reporters that life wasn't all about Grand Slam hotels – Peliwo was going to have to get used to sleeping in a Motel 6 in Boise and playing on court 19 with nobody watching but his coach.

"For Filip, I think, the main challenge is belief. He can't start wondering whether he's good enough to do this," said Robichaud. "He needs to overcome those doubts and realize 'I belong here.'"

Coincidentally, Peliwo addressed the subject at length in his postmatch remarks.

"It took a long time, but I'm a lot more positive and a lot more confident in my game right now," he said. "I'm starting to see, again, the game is there. I can compete with these guys. [My game is] good enough to beat these guys if I manage to stabilize it and keep it consistent. I think, obviously, it's been a tough road the last year and a half, but everyone goes through their struggles."

Junior success is not predictive when it comes to tennis; dozens of players are unable to translate their success to the senior level. He may leave in defeat, but Peliwo seems determined to not be one of them.

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