Three Surgeries Later, Andujar Returns To Winners' Circle
There were moments when Pablo Andujar could not envision a return to professional tennis, let alone wrapping his arms around a trophy. After three elbow surgeries and years of anguish, the former World No. 32 had his doubts that he would ever step on a court again.
But when the body fails, perseverence prevails. In just his eighth tournament in 18 months, Andujar battled to the title at the inaugural ATP Challenger Tour event in Alicante, Spain. He celebrated his first trophy in nearly four years, since triumphing at the Swiss Open Gstaad in 2014.
After battling to a trio of three-set victories during the week, Andujar needed just one hour and 36 minutes to upset #NextGenATP star Alex de Minaur 7-6(5), 6-1 in Saturday's final. The Spaniard rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the first set, reeling off 13 of the next 17 games to emerge victorious.
De Minaur, meanwhile, continues his push towards the Top 100 after reaching his third Challenger final. It marked the third consecutive year that the 19-year-old has featured in a title match on the circuit. Having also reached his first ATP World Tour final in Sydney in January, the Aussie-born Alicante resident is the only player to reach finals on both circuits this year.
Andujar's win at the Ferrero Challenger Open, hosted at former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero's academy in the town of Villena, will see him jump more than 200 spots in the ATP Rankings to No. 355. The Spanish veteran spoke to ATPWorldTour.com after the match...
After De Minaur got off to a great start at 3-0 in the first set, you were able to recover nicely. Talk about that and how you got the win.
I think it was a great final. We both played very well throughout the first set. He started very strong without missing much. I tried to match that level he was playing and I was able to get the break back. It was an exchange of blows until the tie-break. I was lucky to take it and the momentum went in my favour. In the second set, I tried to maintain the same level and although he played well, his game dropped a little.
Your opponent in the final is one of the #NextGenATP leaders in the ATP Race To Milan. What makes him so tough to beat?
I was not surprised at his level, because I had seen him play a few times. I know he can play very well and he's only 19 years old. I'm surprised that he has so many weapons already, and not only with his game, but also mentally. He is a gladiator, a warrior on the court. I agree that he is a player on the rise.
What feelings did you have throughout the week?
It was all very good. I am slowly improving my game and that allowed me to play the best match of the week in the final. I did not expect to take a trophy with me already.
You didn't expect success to come so soon?
That's right. In the end, it is true that if you buy the tickets and do everything you can to win the lottery, there could be a week when you win. If feel like that was me. In this case, it makes me especially excited because it was close to home. Juan Carlos Ferrero's Equelite Academy has been very good to me from the first day. We have known each other for a long time, we have a very good relationship and that makes this title even more special. This helped me to keep my level all week and stay calm.
What do you take from the week in Alicante?
I take great satisfaction. In the end, when you put in the time and effort, everything ends up working out. All the suffering has been rewarded. The previous week I lost in the first round of the Challenger in Marbella, and in just one week everything changed.
What changed in such a short time?
I was training well and doing things the best I could. After all this time away from the game, it was a surprise to win. Look at the weeks I've played. I do not have many titles. It's normal to lose every week. But this time it has been on my side.
This season, you had won your first match at the Rio Open presented by Claro, but again you had another injury.
It was a small setback. Although it was not an elbow injury, I had to go back to do rehab and it was a month and a half without competing. I knew that little by little I would get my level again, although maybe it has come faster than I expected. Now I only ask to stay healthy.
Where do you go from here?
Marrakesh. I will try to play ATP World Tour tournaments with my Protected Ranking and any wild cards. That will allow me to continue training and competing with the best players. That is what I need now.
Stat of the week: Alicante champion @AndujarPablo was competing in just his eighth tournament in 18 months, in his return from a third elbow surgery. Jumps more than 200 spots in the ATP Rankings. pic.twitter.com/IThr4RpATB— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) April 8, 2018