Call him Mello, not 'Guga'
By Brian Biggane
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 03, 2005
DELRAY BEACH — Brazil is famous for soccer, not tennis. Gustavo Kuerten has done his best to change that, but with Kuerten sidelined by a hip injury and slipping in the world rankings, Brazilian tennis is at a crossroad again.
Enter Ricardo Mello. After years in the sport's minor leagues, Mello made his first big ATP splash in September when he beat Boca Raton's Vince Spadea for the Millennium International Championships singles title. At No. 64, the 24-year-old Mello owns the highest ranking of any Brazilian behind the 36th-ranked Kuerten.
A promising future? Yes. Just don't call Mello the next Kuerten.
" 'Guga' in my opinion is a miracle," Mello said Wednesday after teaming with Wesley Moodie, his singles opponent today, for a three-set doubles victory over Kevin Kim and Tripp Phillips in the tournament at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
"He's a player who came out of nowhere. Nobody expected it," Mello said. "It's not normal for us to have a guy who was No. 1 and a three-time (French Open) champion. Once he stops, who knows?"
Mello, Kuerten, and the other six Brazilians on the ATP Tour have been at odds with the Brazilian Tennis Federation for years, claiming it has refused to support its players and has hoarded funds for its own purposes.
The federation installed a new president last month and, with guidance from the players, he's leading the search for a new coach. Mello, who has committed to playing Davis Cup at Colombia in four weeks, is hopeful of change, but wary.
"Every day they find a new debt that they have to fix, from what the other regime left behind," Mello said.
"There's plenty of players that are good, but since there's not much help from sponsors or anything like that, it depends on the player himself."
Mello, a 5-foot-9, 146-pound left-hander, has done much to overcome his own limitations. After six years playing in Futures and Challenger events, he has gone 16-16 in ATP events the past two years. By far his best success has been at Delray Beach. Otherwise, he's been a quarterfinalist twice.
"After winning last year, I come to tournaments like this knowing if I play well, I can win," he said. "Playing against top guys now, I'm not happy anymore just to win points. I feel I can win the match. And that comes from playing at this level more often."
Mello can reach another quarterfinal with a second-round win against Moodie, a 6-5 South African who finished last year ranked No. 136, at noon today. He admitted it will be a bit strange to play against his doubles partner in this event, but said it's something he has done before.
"It helps he's an easygoing guy, and I'm pretty easygoing too," said Mello, who is so quiet his friends in Brazil call him "Papagayo," which is Portugeuse for parrot.
"Other than that, it's just another match."