by: Nima Naderi
Reaching a career high of No. 52 in the world in February of this year, Swiss star Marco Chiudinelli continues his steady climb up the ATP World Tour rankings after being sidelined for eight months during the 2008 season. Improving nearly 700 spots in the Tour rankings last year, Chiudinelli currently stands as the third-ranked player in his country behind Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Taking part in the Japan Open this week in Tokyo, Chiudinelli upset No. 8 seed Michael Llodra in the first-round, before being forced to retire against Radek Stepanek with a back injury during second-round action.
Discussing his year in review, Chiudinelli breaks down his toughest competition on the circuit, the disappointment of Switzerland’s Davis Cup defeat, and what he was doing during the John Isner and Nicolas Mahut classic at Wimbledon.
Q) You faced two hard-hitting Americans at the US Open this summer. Talk about the future potential of your first-round opponent Jack Sock, and the challenges of facing John Isner’s serve in your second-round match?
A) I think that my first-round opponent Jack Sock played very well except for the first set where he [was] obviously still very nervous. I was surprised how solid his baseline game was, and how well he finished a lot of points at the net which is very unusual for such a young player. It was good to see that he ended up winning the US Open junior title, and I’m sure that if he improves his serve and keeps working hard, he has big potential to become a top player.
About my second-round opponent John Isner, I think there is not much to say about him that people don’t know yet. It isn’t a secret that he is serving huge, and it is a big challenge to play against him as I feel that every time it is a mental challenge. You face many moments in the match that can be frustrating when you just feel that you are not able to get enough of his serves back into the court. In the end, he just served too big, used his few chances on my service games, and just like earlier this year in Paris, I lost in four close sets [again].
Q) With Switzerland out of the Davis Cup World Group for 2011, is there a great desire for the Swiss squad to regain World Group status for 2012?
A) Obviously the disappointment about our relegation was quite a big one, not only among us players but also for our staff and our fans. I think we have quite a good draw to make the playoffs again next year, but it is pretty clear to everyone that our chances of regaining World Group status depend a lot on who commits to play next year. But as our next match is only going to be in July 2011, we will have to wait and see what happens.
Q) How would you compare the competition on the ATP World Tour today, from when you began your career in 2000? Are players hitting the ball harder, or moving with more speed?
A) I feel that players have gotten much more athletic all the way through the rankings, and I also feel that the game of the players has improved a lot. I believe a major reason for that are the courts nowadays are much slower than when I started playing.
Q) What ranking goals have you set for yourself over the next 12 months?
A) I struggled a bit throughout the whole year and I am still not sure whether I can finish the year within the Top 100 again. I will have to see how I’ll be doing in the last few tournaments of 2010. My goal for 2011 is to bounce back and get back near the [top] 50.
Q) Who is the toughest opponent that you’ve faced throughout your career and why?
A) I don’t really want to name a single one as I feel that there are so many of them. Each one in a different way, but most of the opponents with high rankings are pretty tough. If I have to chose one that really gave me lots of trouble within the last 12 months, I would say [Nicolas] Almagro as he served really well and completely shot me off the court from the baseline in both matches we played.
Q) At 29, what parts of your game are you still looking to improve, and how much of a premium do you put on your fitness regime?
A) I still try to work on everything a little bit, just like in all the years before. Trying to get all parts of my game to a higher level. Concerning my fitness regime, it’s obvious that after the two major surgeries that I’ve been through in the past, this is a key point for me. I need to work out a lot especially for my knee and my shoulder in order to stay pain free. So it is definitively a priority for me.
Q) What is your favorite tournament on Tour and why?
A) My favorite tournament is obviously the one at home in Basel. First of all, Basel is where I was born and where I still live. And second of all there are a lot of connections between me and the tournament. As a kid, I used to collect autographs of all the players, [and] in ’93 I was able to meet my childhood idol Ivan Lendl. From ’94-’96 I used to be a ball boy, and in ’98 I was playing the qualies for the first time which was a very special feeling to walk out on center court after sitting in the crowd for the past 10 years cheering for the stars. Last but not least I achieved my best result on tour so far by reaching the semis last year which made it even more special.
Q) Have you given any thought to what you would like to do after your professional career is over?
A) Two and a half years ago when I wasn’t sure whether I could come back or not, I have had a few things in mind. But since I am back on tour [now], I [am] focused again 100 percent on tennis, so since then I do not really think much about other things anymore.
Q) What are the most challenging conditions that you’ve ever played under and why?
A) I remember having played a Challenger in Bangkok back in December 2002. We played outdoors and it was so hot and humid that already just standing outside was torture. In the first-round I faced Rogier Wassen, who wasn’t famous for his extraordinary fitness neither—sorry Rogier.
I remember that I made a big effort to come back from trailing 1-3 in the first-set to three games all. I’m sure we didn’t play longer than 20 minutes from that point, but that is how long I lasted. The rest of the match took maximum another 15 minutes as I could barely walk anymore, and Rogier destroyed me 6-3, 6-0. Since [then] I haven’t played under such difficult conditions.
Q) What’s the funniest on-site moment for you this year and why?
A) Watching Isner and Mahut live on TV for about four hours was impressive, entertaining, and also funny in a way as we all just could not believe what was happening out there. I was laying on the floor of the locker room at Wimbledon and watched from 23-22 in the fifth, all the way until they had to stop at 59-59. Most of that time, Christopher Kas was watching it with me, him sitting on the bench, me laying on the floor, and we had quite a good time, including dinner inside the locker room as we didn’t want to leave the TV.