Not everyone can be Stan Wawrinka. Not everyone who is discovering how to play one’s best tennis at age 28 or later has followed the path to tennis immortality Wawrinka has carved out. Yet, older tennis players keep showing to us that they can improve at an advanced stage in their careers. Guido Pella is the latest example.
Pella had one moment in the clay-court sun last week when he battled Rafael Nadal on Good Friday before losing in a punishing battle which took over two hours. Pella advanced to meet Nadal in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals by beating Marin Cilic and Marco Cecchinato in the previous two rounds.
Pella might have had a great week in Monte Carlo, but could he keep that momentum going the next week in Barcelona? Yes, sir.
Pella defeated Karen Khachanov on Wednesday to knock out the seeded Russian and make the round of 16. Pella keeps playing well. He keeps stringing together results instead of pulling the old “here today, gone tomorrow” disappearing act of some players who achieve breakthroughs of various kinds.
Pella will turn 29 in May. He is playing the best tennis of his life.
Hyperbole? I don’t think so — not when Pella, currently ranked a career-high 28, has a chance (with more clay wins in the next month) to crack the top 20 for the first time.
What is ultimately so impressive about this run by Pella is that when we saw him beat Cilic at Wimbledon last year, we thought it was a one-off.
To be sure, no one should expect a huge grass season from Pella this year, and to be just as sure, that loss remains a bad one for Cilic — instructively, a match the Croatian has not yet really recovered from.
Yet, one can be critical of Cilic and still marvel at how Pella keeps getting better and better. Pella keeps showing that isolated wins over really good players are harder and harder to regard as flukes or aberrations. The man is consolidating gains and making a sustained climb in the tennis world.
Sure, I don’t expect Pella to be in a Roland Garros semifinal, but if he becomes in 2019 what the aforementioned Marco Cecchinato became last year in Paris, should any of us be hugely surprised? Not after this run we have seen from an aspiring and advancing Argentine.