Pella's Biweekly Sessions Open Up ATP Success
For the first time, Pella is seeded at a Slam (19), and until now, he's had one of the best clay-court seasons of anyone. He leads the ATP Tour this year with 20 wins on the surface – another reason to be excited for the season's second Grand Slam championship.
“It's a good feeling to know that I'm seeded, that I'm playing good, that I'm winning matches,” Pella told ATPTour.com.
But the double-digit number next to his name, and the expectations that can come with playing at a Grand Slam, especially Argentina's favourite, have also made Pella nervous and led him to schedule another session with his Argentine psychologist, someone who, perhaps more than anyone, has helped the 29-year-old have his best season yet.
For the past nine months, Pella has been talking with psychologist Mercedes Veclis for about 45 minutes one or two times a week. The two, who started talking at the urging of Pella's girlfriend, talk about his day-to-day life – how he's feeling, what's coming up next.
Before his first-round match in Paris, Pella planned to talk with Veclis about the butterflies he felt as he walked around the grounds.
“I'm going to talk about how nervous I am to play Roland Garros one more year, to be seeded for the first time. It's just a simple conversation that maybe can help me to understand how I feel, to be more ready and more prepared to play my first round,” Pella said. “I want to talk with her about these feelings.”
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Pella, trained by Jose Acasuso & Kevin Konfederak, also wants to discuss the unusual circumstances surrounding his opener. He faces countryman Guido Andreozzi, someone he has known for the past 15 years. “He knows the way I play, I know the way he plays. So it's a very special match, and it's going to be very tough,” Pella said.
The Buenos Aires resident used to work with a sports psychologist, but about 18 months ago, he wondered if he should make a change. He felt like he was working harder and harder on the court, but he couldn't stay inside the Top 50. Pella ended last year at No. 58 in the ATP Rankings.
He also continued to come up short in ATP Tour finals. Before this season, Pella was 0-3 – 2016 Rio de Janeiro, 2017 Munich, 2018 Umag. He wondered if he'd ever win an ATP title and what had happened to his clutch play in title matches. On the ATP Challenger Tour, Pella was 13-2 in finals.
“After I lost my second final in Munich against Alexander Zverev, I think that was a huge defeat for me. I knew that it was going to be a very tough final,” Pella said. “But for me to play in finals is a very special moment, and I want to win these finals.
“I felt like my game was improving a lot, but when I stepped into the court, the results were not good enough to be higher in the rankings.”
Pella often worried about everything but himself while playing – the wind, the condition of the court, the balls, his opponent.
So last September, during the Asian swing, usually a particularly difficult time for him, he and Veclis began talking about his day-to-day life, rarely discussing the past and never looking too far ahead in the future.
The results didn't come immediately. In February, Pella lost another final, this time after leading Argentine wild card Juan Ignacio Londero, who had been winless before that week, by a set and a break during the Cordoba Open final.
“To lose four finals in a row on the ATP Tour was a huge disappointment,” Pella said.
Winning beget winning, and tranquility on the court led to more tranquility. After the March Masters 1000 events, when he returned to the clay, Pella made three consecutive quarter-finals, in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Munich. He heads into Roland Garros 20-8 on the clay this year.
“It was a dream to win an ATP title. It was a very good relief for me. After that I stepped into the court much more confident, much more relaxed,” Pella said.
“My mind is in the right place. It doesn't matter if I lose the first set or if I lose the second set, I still am remaining calm, and I think that's the key in tennis. Eighty, 90 per cent of tennis, it's about the mind.”
In Roland Garros, he will face a friend who knows his game well – a scenario that, in past years, could have wracked his mind before and during the match.
But after years of finding something else to worry about, Pella has learned to have a singular focus – on his tennis and on himself.
“Now I'm worried just about me, about how I feel, about how I play,” he said. “It doesn't matter if I play against Rafa, against an Argentine guy, against a Russian guy, it doesn't matter. It's just the way I feel.”