by Rodrigo González
Martin Cuevas is aiming to follow in his brother Pablo's footsteps.
Martin and Pablo Cuevas are Uruguay’s answer to the Murray and Lapentti brothers. Separated in age by six years, the pair relish the rare occasions they play together – with hopes of more opportunities to come.
Each year Pablo Cuevas has a special week during the Copa Petrobras Montevideo, the only professional tournament held in his home country of Uruguay. The De Salto native not only has the chance to play at the ATP Challenger Tour event in front of his family and friends, but since 2009, he’s done it with his younger brother, Martin Cuevas, known as 'Bebu' by his loved ones.
Both Pablo and Martin are known and loved by their nation. Each time they get in touch with the crowd, walking to or from the court after a practice, they receive a word of encouragement, a pat on the back or a nice greeting. Playing at home gives them the chance to show their appreciation for their countrymen’s support.
In 2007, when Pablo was 21 and his brother 15, they made their team debut in a Futures tournament in Uruguay. The next year, the pair played for the first time on the ATP Challenger Tour, in Asuncion, Paraguay.
But it was in their home country, at the Montevideo Challenger in 2009, where they not only celebrated their first win, but also reached the final, losing against Argentine Juan Pablo Brzezicki and Spaniard David Marrero.
“It was the second time we played together and it was great to reach the final,” says Pablo, a former Roland Garros doubles champion. “[Martin] was very young (17) and even though we wanted to win, we still were happy.”
The brothers teamed up three times in 2010, with their best result the semi-finals in Szczecin, but nothing erased the good memories of the experience in the Uruguayan capital – especially for Pablo, who travels all year to be in the Top 100 and finished the 2010 season at No. 69 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.
Resting in the Carrasco Lawn Tennis of Montevideo, the local hero confesses: “I love to be here, I enjoy playing with my people, my family and lots of friends. Without a doubt, it’s a very special occasion. At the start of every season I look forward to this week, as well as playing the Davis Cup.”
This satisfaction is increased when playing with Martin, who travelled with him for three weeks in Europe last season and with whom he reunites each time they play Davis Cup.
For the younger brother, the joy is even greater, shared with the player he’s admired since his first steps. “When I was a kid I followed his matches online or on television, wherever I could,” says Martin. “We were always following him, excited, waiting for him to win. Now he teaches me, gives me advice and it makes me happy to play together.”
And if the Martin is happy, it’s not hard to imagine their parents’ enjoyment when the pair steps onto court. “I left home a long time ago and him not so much,” says Pablo, who is currently No. 63 in the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings. “My parents have felt the loneliness at home and they visit us in Buenos Aires as much as they can. They really enjoy it when they watch us play singles or doubles. Like 'Bebu' says, ‘they follow us online or however they can.’”
Although they don't have much option of playing together at present, once they team up it’s easy to see the connection. Not only because of blood ties, but also by the tight relationship they have off the court. “I love to play with him,” says Pablo. “We have an excellent time off-court. The few times we’ve shared court-time it’s been great, so we want to keep on playing together as much as we can. Not only for fun, but also hoping to win everything we can.”
Who knows if the brothers can repeat Pablo’s feat of 2008, when he won the Roland Garros doubles title with Peruvian Luis Horna, who has since retired from the circuit. Despite this tremendous achievement, Pablo’s focus is still on singles, where he is still looking to win an ATP World Tour title.
“I think I've had good weeks,” says Pablo, who reached Moscow semi-finals in October. “Although I haven't won a title yet, I’m close. I had two very good weeks in Vina del Mar where I made semi-finals [2008-2009] and I was close to beating Fernando Gonzalez. After that I also made it to a semi-final at Hamburg (l. Mathieu) in 2009.”
In a football-mad country like Uruguay – that finished in fourth place at last year's FIFA World Cup in South Africa – it's difficult that a boy could choose another sport. But the Cuevas brothers decided to go against the norm.
“We both were playing sports all day long and we had the chance to try out tennis,” says Pablo. “I had good results and decided it was my thing... At the beginning I didn’t have anything clear, but at 13 or 14 I made up my mind. If I wanted to be a professional player I had to make a choice and tennis came up.”
The same was the case for Martin: “I did boating, basketball, football and maybe I got to tennis because of Pablo, but there’s no doubt that it's what I like the most. At age 15, I took the decision of moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, because I decided to be a professional player.”
They still find time to follow their football teams though, albeit to varying degrees. Pablo isn’t as passionate as his brother, although he shows a little more interest when the national team plays, as happened during the World Cup in South Africa. There is one small problem: Martin is a Penarol fan, and Pablo of Nacional, the classic rival teams in Uruguay.
There isn't any rivalry when it comes to tennis. The elder Cuevas is always giving advice to his brother, who is making his first steps in the world of professional tennis. “We talk a lot because we get along very well, so I can give him all the advice I think he needs," says Pablo. "Now I would tell him that he is at a learning stage and he shouldn’t think too much about his ranking, but to win matches. He must believe in his potential and with work he can make it.”
Martin appreciates his brother's help and returns his compliments. “I want to be good, but I don’t compare myself with him, although I plan to take all the advice my brother gives me.”
After playing at Montevideo, the Cuevas brothers went to Argentina to play the third stage of the Copa Petrobras and, although they made a first-round exit, they were happy with the chance to extend their time together on the court. For them, this is just the beginning. Winning matches together is only a matter of time.