Since the end of 2017, Nicolas Jarry has moved up 35 spots in the ATP rankings—that is top five on the tour in terms of improvement. (AP)
He concluded 2017 stationed at No. 100 in the world, establishing himself as the first Chilean to reside among the year-end top 100 since Fernando Gonzalez in 2010, rising no less than 300 spots from his status at the end of 2016. He made it to the finals of five Challenger tournaments in 2017, winning three titles, gaining demonstrable confidence in the process. He realized that he was just beginning to tap into his potential, to find his bearings as a tennis player, to set himself up for a very productive season in 2018.
But Nicolas Jarry has commenced his campaign this year even more dynamically than he might have imagined. A remarkable three-tournament swing on clay allowed this quietly dignified competitor to persuasively showcase his gifts. At the Ecuador Open in Quito—an ATP 250 level event—he was a quarterfinalist in singles and victorious in the doubles alongside Hans Podlipnik-Castillo. On he went to the Rio Open in Rio de Janeiro for a journey to the penultimate round of that ATP 500 tournament, toppling Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Pablo Cuevas before losing to the unrelenting Diego Schwartzman. And then, at the Brazil Open in São Paulo, Jarry garnered a place in his first ATP tour final, cutting down Ramos-Vinolas again, ousting the southpaw Horacio Zeballos, falling 1-6, 6-1, 6-4 against the enigmatic yet wily Fabio Fognini.
That stirring run carried Jarry all the way up to No. 61 in the world, although he now stands slightly lower at No. 65. I spoke with him on the telephone a few days after São Paulo. He was back in Chile, and looking forward to competing at the Miami Open. Jarry was delighted by what he accomplished during his recent surge.
He explains, “I had a solid base from what I did last year. A few years ago, I played some ATP events and I didn’t do well because I was very nervous and immature. But I knew from what I had done in training and practice sets against a lot of players that I could beat these guys. I just had never done it. It took time. In that win I had over Garcia-Lopez in Rio, I was just trying to do what I have done on the practice court in competition, where the real nerves are. He has been in the Top 25 so it was nice to beat a great guy in a tournament when it counts.”
Jarry used that victory as a springboard toward others. It was revealing of his growing awareness as a match player that he not only upended the accomplished Ramos-Vinolas in Rio, but stopped the left-handed Spaniard again in Rio.
“That was awesome,” he says effusively. “He is a great player inside and outside the court. Last year I went to play on the Asian tour and warmed him up for a couple of his matches. It was incredible to beat him on his favorite surface. Right now I don’t have anything to lose. I was confident that I was playing well the first time I beat him, but I knew it would be much tougher the second time, which was a great match decided in a third set tiebreak. It could have gone both ways. The first victory over Ramos-Vinolas was my first against a Top 20 player. To beat a guy of his quality twice means a lot to me.”
What matters even more to this talented youngster is his heritage. The 22-year-old is the grandson of the renowned Chilean Jaime Fillol, who reached a career high of No. 14 in the world in 1974. Fillol was universally revered by fans and fellow competitors alike for his exemplary sportsmanship. He got Jarry started with tennis and remains highly influential. Both grandfather and grandson are fully in accord that the people of Chile are invigorated by Nicolas’s advancement.
I asked Jarry what it means for his country that he is so much on the upswing, and wondered what his country means to him?
He replies, “A lot. Everybody was watching me in these tournaments and I got messages from a lot of people saying that their cousins, their uncles, their families were watching me and informed about everything. In the newspaper, I was on the first page almost all week [in Sao Paulo] and it was a very big thing. My country means a lot to me. I play Davis Cup for them. I am very patriotic and I love representing my country. Now my closest friends are playing more tennis and I have heard that the younger kids are telling their parents that they want to be like me. It is like a nice responsibility for me.”
When I asked Fillol about the significance of Jarry hailing from Chile, he responded, “It is very important to him and all of us in the family. When he plays on the ATP tour, he feels he is representing Chile. He knows everybody is paying a lot of attention to him. He started off with pressure by being the grandson of Jaime Fillol and has always managed that well.”
Perhaps Jarry was born to be a tennis player extraordinaire. When he was only about three months old, unbeknownst to him, a life pattern was set in motion.
“The ATP had a tournament going on in Chile. They took a picture of me and made me a credential as a player, and then they kept doing that year after year.”
“With my brother Alvaro, we used to run that tournament,” recalls Fillol. “Right from the beginning, we were trying to show him the world of tennis—not just the tennis court, but the whole atmosphere. Whenever there was a chance for me to take him to Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, I did that. He was growing up surrounded by tennis, but it was done in a delicate way.”
Delicacy worked. Jarry grew up not just playing tennis but exposed to other games.
“I always did all types of sports,” he recalls. “I did soccer and even hockey when I was four years old and living with my family in New Hampshire for a year. But tennis was always there and never went away. Soccer was the last sport that I pushed away and then, since I was 14. It was just tennis”.
Meanwhile, Nicolas has two sisters and two brothers. His brother Diego is 15.
As Nicolas Jarry says, “Diego plays a lot and loves tennis even more than me. He is crazy about it. He plays all the tournaments here in Chile. This year will be the first year he will do a couple of flights to countries around Chile to play international tournaments, just to have a taste of it. He is tall and very thin right now and doesn’t have any muscles. He is playing 16 and under tournaments so he will get beat up pretty badly by some 16-year-olds who are big and strong, but he has a great mentality. I hope having me as an example will help him to go on a good path towards being a professional tennis player. It will be an amazing dream come true to play together in the future.”
In his last year of high school, at the age of 16, Nicholas Jarry started competing in ITF junior tournaments. He was then living for a year with his family in Miami, and stepped up his tennis activities, reaching No. 8 in the world in the ITF 18-and-under division in 2013, turning to the pro game the following year, finishing that season at No. 224 in the world.
A year later, in 2015, misfortune struck. As he recalls, he injured his wrist in September, was gone from the game for two months, and then spent the next two months hoping to “recover the mobility of the wrist.”
“I was able to play tournaments but I wasn’t the same. My wrist wasn’t hurting, but I didn’t have the confidence to do all the normal stuff. I was struggling.”
The turning point in emerging from those difficulties for Jarry came at the end of 2016, more than a year after his aggravating injury.
“I was pretty upset about everything,” he recollects. “It was November and I decided to play one Challenger, just do a couple of things on the court and not worry about other things. Then, in December, I played three Futures in Chile. I was trying to have fun. I won all three. It made me realize that having the right mentality and being calm is the most important thing.”
Jarry only played five official matches on the ATP tour last year, but his hard work and opportunism in the Challenger tournaments enabled him to reach the Top 100. Through it all, his coach Martin Rodriguez, of Argentina, has guided Jarry ably, while Fillol has remained critical in an advisory capacity. Rodriguez, incidentally, is married to one of Fillol’s daughters.
Rodriguez travels with Jarry as the official coach, and he has been with his charge for five years. Yet Fillol still weighs in with his learned opinions.
“Whenever Nicolas is in Chile, I have the opportunity to speak with him, “says Fillol. “Almost every conversation I have with Nicolas about strategy and technique, I am there with Martin. We don’t always agree, but that is fine because Nicholas can pick up what he wants and can take the best things from all of the people around him. Nobody can claim they have made him. It gives him the feeling of being a real pro.”
Not only the inner Jarry camp passes along pointers to Jarry, but he also benefits from listening to Chilean Davis Cup captain and former world Top 10 player Nicolas Massu, former world No. 1 Marcelo Rios (the current Davis Cup coach) and Fernando Gonzalez, who peaked at No. 5 in the world eleven years ago. All three have been willing to share their knowledge of the game with Jarry.
“I know Fernando well,” says Jarry, “and Massu and Rios were top players when I was growing up. It is nice to talk with them and get some tips. They trust me and believe in me. That means a lot. Every time I have an issue and I need to know something, they are always there for me and wanting to help.”
I mentioned to Fillol that Rios and Massu have both been regarded as not exactly models of decorum, while Gonzalez seems more understated, like Jaime himself.
Fillol understood my point, but said, “Being around all three of them in Davis Cup has been a very good experience for Nicolas. He evaluates well what they are saying and learns from that.”
It is apparent that Jarry benefits from every step in the process of being a professional tennis player. When he took on Fognini in the São Paulo final, he started magnificently, winning the first 13 points of the match, taking the first set swiftly. But the guileful Fognini adjusted to his big-hitting opponent and turned the match around with strategic acumen to prevail in three sets.
“The fact that it was my first ATP final didn’t affect me too much,” he muses. “I was able to be strong in the beginning of the match. But Fognini is an incredible player. He is extremely fast and was able to get to many of my best shots that usually in the rest of the tournament other players could not get. He is one of the best defenders on the tour. He started reading me better.”
Fillol is convinced that Jarry will keep growing as a competitor the more he is tested in the deep waters of tough tournaments.
“He will be learning that he is a very strong kid who has the technique and tools to respond to tough situations in the game. He will realize that. His opponents are going to show him how to hurt other players in the proper way. That will help him cut down on his errors. Stroke by stroke, he is fine. But he is going to come up with new shots because he will see a shot from an opponent and think, ‘That really hurt me. Maybe I will do that to him.’”
Jarry’s education as a tennis player keeps expanding. He now heads into a crucial phase of his career. In the first round at the Miami Open, he confronts Argentina’s lefty Federico Delbonis. After Miami, he will tackle the clay-court circuit. He is situated right where he wants to be, in a world he is beginning to conquer, on a platform he has created for himself, at a fascinating stage in his life. Nicolas Jarry is on his way to loftier destinations.
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