Beating Thiem Helped Varillas Believe; Will The Peruvian Do It Again?

Learn more about Varillas' rise
September 28, 2023
Juan Pablo Varillas climbed to a career-high No. 60 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in June 2023.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Juan Pablo Varillas climbed to a career-high No. 60 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in June 2023. By Ravi Ubha

Drawn against Dominic Thiem at this week’s Astana Open, Juan Pablo Varillas couldn’t help but reflect on the pair’s meeting at the Argentina Open in February.

The Peruvian navigated through qualifying in Buenos Aires, beat Joao Sousa and then the 2020 US Open champion as part of a career-changing week in the city he lives in.

Varillas proceeded to make a tour-level semi-final for the first time and saw his Pepperstone ATP Ranking climb from No. 101 to No. 81.

He has not been outside the Top 100 benchmark since, currently sitting at No. 67.

“I think that win, and that week, was really like a (tipping point) for me maybe,” the 27-year-old said. “It was like, ‘Now I was able to be at that level and compete at that level, high level, and do it for several matches in a row.’”

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Indeed. Varillas downed third-seed Lorenzo Musetti in the quarter-finals prior to losing in two tight sets to second seed Cameron Norrie.

His pinch-me moment also came on the red clay at Roland Garros, where Varillas won three consecutive five-setters to become the first Peruvian to make the Last 16 since Jaime Yzaga in 1994. He earned a clash with Novak Djokovic on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“When the crowd started doing a wave, I looked up and it was like, ‘Man, where are you now?!” said Varillas. “It was the first Grand Slam I got straight into the main draw. Then it was my first win in a Grand Slam in the main draw.

“There were a lot of objectives and dreams that came true in that week. Every single match for me was important. And for my confidence it was so, so important.”

Varillas returned to Peru for just under a week and was asked to sign autographs and pose for photos like never before.

“Maybe 10 months ago almost everyone didn’t know me and it was okay for me,” said Varillas. “I like that because I like to be a normal guy. But now it has changed.”

However, Varillas added three more sponsors after Roland-Garros to lift the tally to what he believes is seven.

He has managed to stay healthy, unlike in 2022 when a pair of ankle injuries, a hip injury and shoulder issue arose in a season that saw Varillas contest 80 matches at all levels including qualifying. All but six of those came on clay. This year, the number has risen to 11.

Varillas embarks on a new challenge against Thiem on Thursday in Kazakhstan, playing in his first tour-level indoor match.

“I am aware of that,” he said.

He only ever competed in one indoor match on the ATP Challenger Tour, losing to Botic van de Zandschulp in Ismaning, Germany on carpet in October 2020 in 42 minutes.

Now, though, he is more accustomed to plying his trade on surfaces other than clay as well as switching surfaces. All part of a breakthrough campaign.

“It has been a great season, a season of progress, believing in myself and believing in what I can do on the court,” said Varillas.

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