Chiudinelli Continues Comeback at US Open
Friday, September 4, 2009
By Joshua Rey
It was at the 2006 US Open that an obscure qualifier named Marco Chiudinelli first flew under the radar and into the third round of the main draw. A Swiss of Italian lineage, Chiudinelli was born on the border of France and Germany. An international man of mystery if there ever were one, Chiudinelli made a memorable major debut.
In beating Spaniards Fernando Vicenete and Feliciano Lopez, the Swiss continued a rapid recovery from shoulder surgery, rising from No. 305 to No. 188 in the ATP World Tour rankings. After losing in the qualifying rounds of all 12 Grand Slam events he’d traveled to, the 24-year-old found luck in No. 13.
But a freak accident in his home the following winter jeopardized Chiudinelli’s chances of ever playing tennis again. After injuring his left knee by unintentionally banging it into the edge of a table, he played just one tournament in 18 months. The ATP ranking he worked so hard to attain disappeared altogether.
So you’ll have to excuse him for celebrating wildly when Mikhail Youzhny double-faulted on match point of their second-round match Thursday. In reaching the third round of the 2009 US Open as a qualifier, Chiudinelli has come full-circle in an unlikely familiar fashion.
“I wasn’t sure whether I would make it physically,” said Chiudinelli, who turns 28 on Thursday. “I’m very thankful that I have the chance again to play in general. It’s a great feeling to be here again in the third round.”
Chiudinelli (pronounce the “Chiu” as “Q”) was born in Basel 33 days after Roger Federer was welcomed to the world in the same town. He trained with Federer during the early-1990s at Basel’s “Old Boys” tennis club.
“I always follow him very closely because he's a childhood friend of mine,” Federer said this week. “We used to play soccer against each other for fun, and practiced together since we were 10 years old… It's wonderful to see that he also made it on the big stage.”
While Federer’s health has helped him remain on the big stages – he’s played all 40 Grand Slam events this decade – Chiudinelli ran into trouble in 2005 when he felt pain in his right shoulder. After undergoing surgery and missing nine months, Chiudinelli fell from the ATP Challenger Tour to the Futures circuit.
Ranked a lowly No. 795 in May 2006, Chiudinelli won back-to-back Futures titles in Kuwait to start the strongest stretch of his career. He overcame his Grand Slam jinx by qualifying into the US Open and the Australian Open, posting Davis Cup wins over Janko Tipsarevic, Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer along the way.
“I'll see in the next days what I have done here,” Chiudinelli said after beating Ferrer in February 2007. “I am very happy to have proved that I can play on a very high level."
Days after Chiudinelli’s Davis Cup heroics, he injured a tendon in his left knee. Working with a physical therapist, Chiudinelli attempted a comeback in October 2007 at the Davidoff Swiss Indoors in Basel. But with a scar that wouldn’t heal and inflammation that wouldn’t go away, Chiudinelli made the decision to undergo his second major operation in two years.
“I started from zero in ’06 and within nine months I was close to the Top 100 again,” said Chiudinelli, whose career-high rank is No. 129. “Then I had the knee thing and I had to stop again. This helped me a lot to know that I’ve already done it once… Having gone through it once, I knew I could go through it again.”
In November 2007, Chiudinelli flew to Vail, Co., for surgery to repair his left knee. He was given an 80 percent chance of recovery, but never let the other 20 percent distract him from returning.
“Those nine months in between my comeback from shoulder surgery and my knee problems were the best nine months of my career so I thought, ‘This can’t be it,’” Chiudinelli said. “That’s why I really wanted to give it another try. I wasn’t sure whether it was going to work with the knee, but I’m happy I was part of the 80 percent who make it.”
One year after his knee operation, Chiudinelli returned to what he calls the “tennis circus.” A 26-year-old veteran without a ranking to his name, the Swiss won a futures event in Dubai and a challenger in Spain, but fell in the qualifying rounds of the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
Chiudinelli, playing in his 10th season as a pro, says he still has his eyes on reaching the Top 100. Currently ranked 161st, he has inched closer and closer to achieving his goal with every win in Flushing.
Chiudinelli survived three qualifying matches before defeating Italian Potito Starace in the first round of the main draw, whipping winners in a pair of tiebreaks. While Federer was beginning the defense of his five US Open titles on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Chiudinelli was hugging, shaking hands, and signing autographs for anyone in his vicinity after beating Starace six love on Court 8.
He was promoted to Court 4 for his second-round match against Youzhny, a 2006 US Open semifinalist. After struggling with his forehand and dropping the first set, Chiudinelli forced a second-set tiebreak. As he did against Starace, the Swiss never hesitated at the chance he was given.
He stepped inside the baseline to crush a down-the-line backhand return winner to earn set point, and then knifed a backhand volley winner to even the match.
“I feel he is not even playing his best tennis now,” said Chiudinelli’s coach Jan de Witt. “He plays okay, but he competes great. That, for me, is the key to the success here.”
Mixing slice and top spin, Chiudinelli broke the Russian eight times in the match. He jumped off the DecoTurf surface as Youzhny’s final serve flew long, lifting both his arms skyward and pumping his fists in a celebration similar to Federer’s reaction after he won Wimbledon this year.
Sure it was just a second-round match. But for Chiudinelli, it was confirmation that he’s making up for lost time.
“I’m just hoping and praying that I stay healthy. I know how important that is,” said Chiudinelli, who will play Nikolay Davydenko Saturday. “I hope I can still play for a few years because I feel like all the time I’ve lost I can hang it onto the end of my career.”
Just happened to come across this article on USO website.
Good Luck Marco.