First-Time Winner Spotlight: Guido Pella
But the Argentine didn't stay discouraged, and on Sunday at the Brasil Open, playing in his fifth tour-level final, the 28-year-old won his first ATP Tour title. Pella spoke with ATPTour.com about what it means to him in this "First-Time Winner Spotlight".
How does it feel to be an ATP Tour champion?
I always play very good in Brazil, because I have played here since I was 12 years old, so it's a very special place for me. I couldn't do it in Rio, I was very close. But here it is very special because it's my first ATP title after my fifth final so it's very important.
In the Cordoba final, you were up a set and 4-2 [and lost], and you were up the same score today. How did you rebound from Cordoba and get to this point?
It was very, very difficult because I thought about it a lot. But I think I served unbelievably well, and in tennis, if you serve good it's very hard to get broken, and I think that was the key for the match.
When I was up 5-3 I thought that I was going to go for it, and after that who knows. But I think I was very calm... I finished with a winner, and it was the best match point I could have ever imagined.
You went 11-3 during the Golden Swing and didn't lose a set in Sao Paulo. What would you say is working in your game right now?
I think I'm playing very solid from the baseline, forehand, backhand. I'm trying to go to the net more often just to finish the points earlier. In Sao Paulo, I always play really good. Last year I lost in the second round but I made the quarter-finals two years ago. So it's a place that I feel very good with my game.
All of your finals have come on clay but the two biggest wins of your career have come on other surfaces. You beat Marin Cilic on grass (Wimbledon 2018) and Dominic Thiem on hard court (2017 Chengdu). Do you expect that you'll be able to carry this momentum to the other surfaces this year?
Yeah, I made a couple of semi-finals, one in Doha  and the other one in Chengdu . I can play on other surfaces. It's just a matter of, keep playing, keep improving my game, and I think this year, I started very good. Tomorrow I will have my best ranking.
It's been a very good year so far so I will try to do my best every week. When the U.S. hard-court swing comes, I will hope to play good and maybe try to win a tournament.
You're working with Jose Acasuso, a former Top 20 player. As a coach, he seems so calm, doesn't get too excited. How has he helped you?
That was the key, that's why I hired him in the first place, because he's very calm. I'm trying to be calm on court. Sometimes it's very difficult, but I think every time I see him, he's so calm so it's good for me.
That's one of the best qualities he has, and he knows a lot about tennis. He's a very good coach for me, and it's very important for the team that we can win some matches, to play finals, semi-finals, so it's very good momentum for us and I hope to keep playing like this.
You fell to No. 166 in the ATP Rankings in February 2017. What caused you to fall like that, and how difficult has it been to get back up?
It was just one thing: Davis Cup. We [Argentina] won the Davis Cup in 2016 and after that it was devastating for all of us. I couldn't stop [playing] like Del Potro, either, because I wasn't so good in the rankings. So I had to play all the tournaments, and I lost confidence.
Tennis is like this – if you don't play good, you can't win matches... But I think after that I learned a lot about myself, about how I felt on court, and I think that was the key for me to be in this position now, to be playing more consistent on the tour. That's a very good feeling for me because it's really tough to win matches on the tour, and I'm doing a very good job.
After enduring that slump, how satisfying is it to be back in the Top 40 [projected to be No. 34 on Monday]?
Awesome. I remember 2017, I was talking to myself and thinking, will there be any chance to improve my [old career-high] ranking? Because No. 39, it's a very good ranking, and I was playing very good at that time. And in 2017, I was struggling a little bit with my game... But last year I was playing really good, I made a final in Umag, and I was playing really good tennis, beating Cilic at Wimbledon.
I just focused more on my game, how to improve... I wasn't thinking about anything else, and I think that was the key.
You've played at least three tournaments in the Golden Swing eight straight years. What do these events mean to you?
It's an opportunity not to travel a lot. It's two hours from home... It's a very good opportunity for us to keep playing tennis in South America, to keep improving our ranking and to play on clay courts, which, after all, is our best surface... So I will continue to do this. I'm not planning to go to Europe in February; I will try to keep playing these tournaments because I felt very good in the past, I'm feeling very good now and I think I will feel very good in the future.
What were your expectations coming onto the clay this year? Were they high?
No... I was struggling not only with my game but with my legs. I was not feeling very fit. It was very tough for me to do the pre-season because I was not feeling very fit. When I went to Doha, and I played the first match, I felt very good but after that I couldn't move for three days.
It was very bad for me because I was 25 hours from home, the Australian Open was two weeks after Doha, so it was not the best beginning of the year for me. But after that I said, it's OK. I'm going to play at home for two weeks. It's a very good chance for me to play good, to get the rhythm and I think I did a very good job.