Challenger Q&A: Peliwo Captures Maiden Title
Filip Peliwo celebrated the seminal moment of his young career on Sunday, breaking through as an ATP Challenger Tour champion for the first time. The 23-year-old Canadian defeated Denis Kudla 6-4, 6-2 to claim his maiden Challenger crown on the indoor hard courts of Knoxville.
Peliwo streaked to the title in impressive fashion, dropping just one set in eight matches as a qualifier. Peliwo toppled eighth seed Tommy Paul, a surging Liam Broady, third seed Taylor Fritz and second seed Henri Laaksonen, before ousting Kudla in the final.
A former junior No. 1 and champion at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2012, Peliwo has struggled in his transition to the professional circuit. Having fallen outside the Top 500 in April, he will soar 84 spots to a career-high No. 195 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on Monday.
Filip, this was a long time coming. It's been five years since you were No. 1 as a junior. Now you finally have a Challenger title. Talk about the progress you've made, specifically over the past six months.
It's been a huge improvement mentally, to put everything together and have it set in stone with my gameplan and patterns. Just to make sure I'm not too pumped and have too much adrenaline or too down and losing focus. I needed to keep my intensity, but in a sustainable way. My coach Fred has really helped me to do that. Earlier in the year, I fought through many Futures events and was grinding it out. I had a few titles out there, which got me started on this roll. It's been a great year in general and to cap that off like this is great.
Eight matches in eight days is an absurd accomplishment. To have that level of energy today, is that something you wanted to ride early in the match?
I knew going into the match that Denis was going to be a little tired, because in his two previous matches he had to play a tough three-setter against Bjorn Fratangelo and yesterday against Bradley Klahn. I assumed he was going to be a little slow and he was struggling to reach some of my shots. But I was focusing more on myself and trying not to get out of the zone and stay in my bubble. That's what came together. I didn't get distracted and didn't focus on what my opponent was doing too much. I played my game and did what I had to do.
In terms of what you're doing on court, how would you describe your game now? How has that developed specifically this year?
My game is definitely an aggressive game. I try to take the ball early and do what I can to move forward. I've been working a lot on shot selection and having the right patterns, with something to go to in the big moments. That is, not drifting away and hitting balls. To actually have some sort of plan. My coach has really been trying to put that in my head since we started working together over the summer. It's been a slow and steady process and it's starting to come together.
Frederic Niemeyer is the Fred you keep referring to. He's got a few ATP Challenger Tour titles in his past. He is more emotional as a coach than any other coach we see out here. Are you cognisant of that and do you feed off of that at all?
Absolutely. Fred really cares about what we're doing and he's giving us the opportunity to succeed. He's very knowledgable and that helps. It's always nice to have your coach behind you like that and really cheering you on. Just always being there, but without being negative. If something is a little off, he'll tell me what I need to hear but he won't do it in a way that's going to kill my confidence or get me frustrated at him. We have really good chemistry and Fred does get emotional, but in a productive way. It's been a huge help for me.
The big story here is the culmination of these four years for you, since turning pro. Do you view it as that or is it more a step on a long path?
Maybe a few years ago I would have viewed it as that, but I've been trying to stay in the present and put whatever past I've had behind me. I don't want to think about all the expectations I had, like maybe I should have been playing better and had a higher ranking earlier. All of those 'what ifs'. I'm starting fresh and focusing on week by week, match by match, game by game, point by point. In a way, it is a culmination of all the work I've put in and it feels great, but I'm just moving forward and trying to not rely heavily on that.
A lot of players win their first Challenger title and come out the next week a little flat. On top of that, you're now inside the Top 200 for the first time and are into Australian Open qualifying. How is your mental approach for next week in Champaign?
I'll just try to keep what I've been doing out here. Obviously the conditions will be a little different and (first round opponent) Chris (Eubanks) is a dangerous opponent. He serves big and hits big, so when he's on, he's always difficult to play your game. But I'll focus on my own game and if it works out it does and if it doesn't, it doesn't. As long as I put in the work and the right game and do my job, I'll stay positive.
This is a $10,000-plus cheque. You have to celebrate a little tonight. How do you celebrate your first Challenger title?
Well, there's always the temptation to do that, but I have one more week and I want to finish it well. I don't want to ruin my chances of that. I'm just going to celebrate my driving a few hours to Louisville and then Champaign. Especially at the end of the year I don't want to tire myself out too much. I'll definitely have a nice meal and some nice dessert that I've been putting off for a while. Something small and mellow.