Uruguay has been looking for a successor to Marcelo Fillippini on the ATP tour who definitely made the most of his talent winning 5 titles. Then as a 31 year old he made the quarter finals of 1999 Roland Garros as qualifier without dropping a set before losing to Agassi. His Davis Cup team mate Diego Perez who shares the record of most Davis Cup wins for Uruguay with Fillippini and also won an ATP title.
Cuevas played his first Futures event in 2002 and turned pro in 2004. He lost to players like Monaco, Junqueira, Zeballos. In 2005 he made his Davis Cup debut vs. Cuba and won his first of two Futures titles beating Machi Gonzalez in the process. It wasn’t until 2007 that Cuevas made his Grand Slam debut losing to Andy Murray after qualifying at the US Open, he lost in the last round of qualies to Dusan Vemic at Roland Garros.
After consolidating his 2007 season with strong Challenger results 2008 was the year that got Cuevas noticed to a wider audience outside of Latin America for varying degrees. His singles breakthrough was at Viña del Mar where he had 2 match points against hometown hero Fernando Gonzalez but ended up losing 6-7 7-6 6-2, though in the 2nd set tiebreaker he hit one of the most famous winners, the clip says enough. The crowd and Gonzalez were really intimidating Cuevas, had Cuevas won the semi final, it would have been his first ATP title as Juan Monaco injured his ankle in a doubles match when he collided with the linesman’s chair and withdrew from the final.
Famous shot vs. Gonzalez at Viña del Mar
Instead of building on that fine performance Cuevas managed to lose a 15 year old Ryan Harrison at the Houston Grand Slam in straight sets, yes this was a poor performance and showed a mental frailty that has been with Cuevas throughout his career. It’s not like Cuevas was playing a prodigy like Wilander, Borg, Krickstein, Arias or Chang on a surface that he was unfamiliar with.
However this low point was pushed into the background with his greatest triumph winning the 2008 Roland Garros doubles title with Luis Horna. These were two talented singles players entering for some cash and having fun, yet they won the title which was refreshing and surprising. The great ride started when they played the French duo of Clement and Llodra in the first round, an excellent combo and competent at singles as well, so they definitely aren’t doubles specialists. They were handled with ease, then took out Nieminen and Lindstedt in the next round and after this they took out Dlouhy/Paes in the 3rd round. They made the quarter finals taking out 2 seeded combinations.
In the quarter finals the shenanigans with the Bryans began. The Bryans were huge favourites, but luckily the conditions were very heavy with the constant rain, making the court heavier which was better for the South Americans. The 3rd set tiebreaker was hilarious when Ceuvas jumped the net and it was clearly nowhere near the Bryans, but after the match when Lucho and Cuevas won, the Bryan bitches refused to shake Ceuvas’s hand. “He was really disrespectful,” Mike said. “He jumped the net right in our face. It’s classless.” But Cuevas’s response was class. “Maybe I celebrated a little too much. But it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s not every day you beat the No. 1 team.”
Horna/Cuevas vs. Bryans with the net jump
The semi final against another unseeded team Soares/Vemic was their most difficult match, as they got closer to the final, they blew match points, but managed to make it through to the final. Lucky the conditions were quite heavy and it suited Lucho and Cuevas for sure. They came out on fire slapping returns that the doubles specialists weren’t used to handling at all. Lucho ripping on the forehand side and Ceuvas with the single hander, these devastating shots were too much for Nestor/Ziki who looked all at sea out there under the onslaught. The first set was over quickly and the second was slightly more competitive, but the same pattern continued the South Americans won 6-2 6-3. One could see they couldn’t believe that they won and Cuevas said afterwards “we weren’t expecting to get that far”.
Horna and Cuevas RG Doubles
After the Roland Garros doubles triumph, in 2009 Cuevas finished the singles year at 141, had to play Challengers winning Montevideo. Qualifying for Viña del Mar where he made the semis, the event he peaks for, also qualifying for Hamburg. He managed to finish the year inside the top 50.
Cuevas having fun with Roddick
2010 was a consolidation season winning the Sczecin Challenger then in 2011 Cuevas had arguably his biggest win in Miami where he took out Andy Roddick in straight sets showing plenty of variety. Best of all about this win was the Miami crowd cheering for Cuevas though Miami is a Latino city. Sadly for Cuevas at Roland Garros is where the injury problems began he had to retire in the first round against Antonio Veic with knee problems and hasn’t played since.
Pablo Cuevas down and not out
Long term injury layoffs impact on players in different ways, some never come back to their previous level whereas others have improved with the time away from the game. As for Cuevas this will be a good thing as he has not rushed his comeback to tennis. He probably could have played doubles in the Davis Cup last week but chose not to risk it. Since the game has become more physical players are reaching their peak levels at a later age, which is only logical since tennis is a speed endurance sport.
Lucho Horna came out and said “if he recovers from injury, then Cuevas has the potential to be a top 20 player”. The statement isn’t outrageous as the potential is there. The main questions are has the break away from the game helped Cuevas focus mentally on what he wants out of the sport. This is what was holding him back previously and something like this can be used as a positive to focus on the goals at hand.
Cuevas has an outstanding kick serve especially for a smaller guy, gets very good angles with it to open up the court and the single hand backhand especially down the line is a class shot. The forehand is pretty good, but definitely could improve taking it on the rise. His transition game is solid, just needs to be selective when he comes into the net.
Alberto “Luli” Mancini has taken over the coaching from Daniel Orsanic after the contract ran out. Cuevas has moved to Argentina to train, it’s not like Argentina is unfamiliar his mother is Argentine. There are better practice facilities and hitting partners, though it’s arguable whether the beef is better there.
Mancini when he won Monte Carlo
Mancini was top 10 in singles, brilliant backhand, one of the guys that did better against the top players, these things he could definitely bring to help Cuevas. Guillermo Coria another small player, slight of stature albeit with a different game had his best years under Mancini. It’s a shrewd appointment in theory, lets see how it pans out.
As to whether Cuevas will be a Fillppini or Diego Perez depends on a few factors. Besides the 5 titles, Fillippini managed to reach 30th in the world, so this is the challenge for Cuevas. Providing he improves mentally which has been the big weakness, at the elite level it isn’t so much the technique, it’s more mentally and there needs to be more work done on that side of things. Cuevas is coming into a good age for his career, improve the mental side then the confidence will come and improved results in the bigger clay events would be needed to reach the level of Fillippini.
In the long term the top 20 is a challenge but in the short term it’s important for Cuevas to get some match fitness playing Challengers, competing hard then maybe using his Protected Ranking for the bigger events. As long as he works hard on his game and mentally, then he can make a successful comeback to tour.