For a Fast-Rising Chilean Player, French Open Success Has Been a Long Time Coming

For a Fast-Rising Chilean Player, French Open Success Has Been a Long Time Coming

PARIS — Cristian Garín, a stocky tennis player from Chile, is nicknamed El Tanque — The Tank.

But Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and longtime coach, once said Garín lacked “conviction” and “extra determination.” And a headline in Garín’s native country cast doubt on his mental toughness. Those doubts are dissipating, a development that has been a long time in the making.

Six years ago, Garín won the French Open junior boys title, but it was not until Monday at Roland Garros that Garín, 22, notched his first victory in a Grand Slam tournament, defeating Reilly Opelka of the United States, 7-6 (0), 7-5, 7-6 (7).

It was the latest step upward in a career that has been burdened by weighty expectations. Garín has established himself on the tour this year, winning two titles and 20 matches on clay courts, second behind Guido Pella’s 21. Just over a year ago, Garín was ranked outside the top 200. He is now 37th.

In the process he has rewritten his reputation, transforming from a player whose mental toughness was routinely questioned to the leader of the ATP’s “Under Pressure” index, which assesses performance on break points, tiebreakers and deciding sets.

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Garín’s road to the second round of the French Open has taken longer than expected.

His parents played tennis every weekend, and he first picked up a racket at 2 and started playing at 4. He would eventually become the most hyped young prospect in Chile, where tennis ascended during his childhood as Nicolás Massú won gold medals in singles and in doubles, with Fernando González, at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

After reaching the second round of the ATP tournament in Santiago, Chile, at 16, Garín added to his stellar junior résumé. He finished his run to the title at Roland Garros by beating Borna Coric, now No. 15, in the semifinals and Alexander Zverev, now ranked fifth, in the final.

Chile, like several other South American nations where soccer reigns supreme, has a small but fervent tennis following. Fans there have long sought a successor to the former world No. 1 Marcelo Ríos, as well as to Massú. Garín’s early success generated plenty of excitement. He was awarded a car sponsorship before he was old enough to drive. But he struggled early in his professional career, stalling at the second-tier Challenger level as players like Coric and Zverev cruised past him.

“I don’t like to think about my past — it was tough for me,” Garín said. “I played a lot of Challengers, a lot of Futures.”

After Garín failed to find chemistry with several coaches, his family sold their house and other possessions to pay for him to relocate to Spain, where he trained for a time at the Rafael Nadal Academy.

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