A promising start in 2012, a seven-month layoff, and an amazing comeback. Rafael Nadal? No. Pablo Carreño, without a doubt the newcomer of the year on the ATP World Tour, and a story quite out of the common.
After turning pro in 2009, Pablo Carreño, like every young player his age, went to develop his game on the Futures circuit and, a little, on the Challenger Tour, as well as playing a couple of ATP qualifications, for a career high of nº133 in the world.
He finished 2011 and started 2012 on the Challenger Tour, like most youngsters in the beginning of their career.
Then the problems came. In March 2012, at 20 years of age, the Spaniard was forced to stop playing due to a herniated disk, an injury that would keep him away from the courts for seven months and which required surgery, which he underwent in June, a few weeks before turning 21.
On the rise when he got injured, Carreño went all the way down to nº757 in the rankings before coming back to action, in October 2012, where he played a few Futures tournaments and finished the year ranked 654 in the world.
A serious injury is just as serious an impediment for a player in the early stages of his career and Pablo Carreño is no different.
The young Spaniard got back to the basics and continued his comeback on the Futures circuit at the start of the season, where he first reached the final in Turkey before going on an impressive 35-match winning streak, taking the honours of seven consecutive Futures tournaments before qualifying for the first time into an ATP event, in Casablanca, where he won his first career match over two-time defending champion Pablo Andújar before losing to Kevin Anderson in the round-of-16.
After losing in the first round of the Rome Challenger, he made his way to Barcelona, where he had received a wild card and lost in the second round to Thomaz Bellucci.
Qualifying into an ATP event for the second time of the season in Oeiras (Portugal), Carreño was the great surprise of the tournament, where he reached his first career semifinal after defeating Julien Benneteau, David Goffin, and Fabio Fognini before losing to eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka.
He qualified for his first Grand Slam a month later, at the French Open, and ended up losing in straight sets to Roger Federer in the first round.
His second Challenger Tour title of the season, in Segovia, made him enter the top 100 for the first time in his career on 5 August, where he continued to climb steadily until the end of the season, which he finished at a career high of n°64 in the world, with two more ATP triumphs to his name, in Kuala Lumpur and Stockholm.
Most improved player?
A season such as Pablo Carreño’s, who ended the season with a 7-7 record in ATP level matches, at his first season, might have deserved him, in any other year, a nomination for the Newcomer of the Year.
However, this trophy has been replaced by the “Star of Tomorrow”, which is awarded to the youngest player in the top 100. The first edition of this trophy, this year, went to Czech player Jiri Vesely, who played (and lost) all seven matches he played at ATP level in 2013.
Instead, the Spaniard has been nominated for the “Most Improved Player” of 2013, and his amazing 590-place jump in the rankings was reason enough for him to be awarded that, and deservedly.
However, if we look at it subjectively, we cannot talk about improvement in Carreño’s case, since he is an up-and-coming player who only played his first ATP level matches this season (with the exception of one main draw match in Barcelona in 2011, and a couple of qualification matches). In other words, he was a newcomer, in all senses of the term.
Indeed, a climb of 590 rankings spots is an amazing achievement, as well as an improvement, but those are only the normal steps followed by any talented young player making their way up the rankings at the start of their career. Which is exactly where Pablo Carreño is.
The fun part is: it only just began for the Spaniard, and he should go much higher than that. He has the game, he has the talent, and he showed that he has the fighting spirit.
A top 30 finish in 2014? Highly possible!