Saturday, April 16, 2011

The curious case of Federico Delbonis and the success of his opponents

Here's the English version of my previous post (sorry, still trying to figure out the blog's layout)

Sometimes when the desired results don’t come one start to look for explanations, specially when talent is present and the opponents are the same as before. Moreover, in a burgeoning career it’s rare to see that, suddenly, one starts to lose more often than usual. Surely there are a dozen factors that only the player, his coach and his entourage know about. It could be an injury, a change in style, a new serve, or simply a bad stretch cause by a decrease in confidence. Here I present you a different angle, and a theory that has been proving itself week after week. But first, let me give you a little background

I introduce you the story of Federico Delbonis of Argentina. Born in 1990, he reached his career ranking high in July of 2010 (117 in the world) after a meteoric rise in 2009 that saw him go, in a matter of months, from barely qualifying to Futures to give Stan Wawrinka all he could handle at the ATP in Gstaad, Switzerland. Delbonis then finished 2010 ranked 160 after a subpar showing in the South American challengers of the Copa Petrobras.

Delbonis then started 2011 with his sights set on breaking into the top 100, make it to the big leagues and play in the Grand Slams. The problem is that, as of mid-April, his current ranking is still 157 and he has to defend a significant amount of points from the same time last year. This is because Delbonis has lost this year to opponents he has already beaten in the past, or that he should beat if one takes his potential and their rankings into account. Here are some examples:

In his first tournament of the year, Delbonis reached the semi-finals of the Sao Paulo CH, where he lost to Ricardo Mello, the experienced Brazilian.  After beating Delbonis, Mello went on to win the title with a 62 61 win over 1990-born Rafael Camilo. Weeks later, also in Brazil, Delbonis lost to Facundo Bagnis in the second round of the Brazil’s ATP at Costa do Sauipe. Bagnis ended up advancing to the main draw before losing in the first round to Portugal’s Rui Machado. Besides, Bagnis today is going through the best stretch of his young career, setting career high rankings almost weekly.

At the beginning of March, Delbonis went to try his luck at the Salinas CH in Ecuador. There, after reaching the QFs, he lost to compatriot and 1988-born Andres Molteni, a veteran of the Futures circuit taking his first steps at the challenger level. After beating Delbonis with a hard-fought 64 in the third set, Molteni went on to win the tournament, his first at that level, beating former 41-ranked Argentine Horacio Zeballos. 

His schedule continued in Morocco, where Delbonis was forced to play his second round and quarter final matches during the same day because of a rain delay. In the second round he beat Slovak Ivo Klec in 3 sets, and later battled out another 3-setter against Czech Ivo Minar, before running out of gas and losing. Minar went on to win the challenger (played in Rabat), beating another challenger veteran in Aussie Peter Luczak.

The following week, also in Morocco (Marrakech), Delbonis surprisingly lost in the first round against Frenchman Augustin Gensse, 200 in the world at the time. Unsurprisingly, however (because of my theory), Gensse enjoyed a dream week in which he beat compatriot Desnieres de Veigy and the up and coming Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas before being eliminated in the semis by Portugal’s Rui Machado. By mid-April Gensse had achieved a new career high.

Last week, Delbonis flew to Monza, Italy to take part in a new challenger. After getting through R1, he lost in the second round to German Julian Reister, a match in which he had 3 match points in the second set tie-breaker. As you can probably imagine by now, Reister completed one of the best weeks of his life by beating fellow German Andres Beck in the semis and the local favorite Alessio Di Mauro in the final to, not only win the title but also to enter the top 100 in the world for the first time.

And here’s the cherry that goes on top: Delbonis participated at the end of last week in the qualy for the Masters 1000 at Monte Carlo, but was eliminated in the first round by Portuguese Frederico Gil. And guess what? Gil not only won his QR2 match to make it to the main draw; he also beat Sergiy Stakhovsky, Florian Mayer and GAEL MONFILS to advance to his first QF at such tournament level. And the dream continues: he plays Andy Murray tomorrow and then a possible date with a dude named Radael Nadal. Can he make it happen? (editor’s note = he lost to Murray 62 61. Oh well…)

Probably this is just a random correlation. But weirder things have happened before. I just want to say that it’s clearly possible that sometimes a player is unlucky enough to, somehow, bring the best in his opponents and lead them to have their best week of the year. The only sure thing is that if my theory keeps “proving itself” throughout the year, everyone is going to want to beat Delbonis because, unfortunately, he has become a sort of lucky charm…

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