Londero: From The Challenger Tour To Challenging 'The Big 3'
“You don't realize you're losing these matches; your opponent isn't winning them. You get stuck in your own head; you lose your composure and that's why you wind up losing. The errors stick out in your mind when instead you should focus on what you should be doing, or what you're doing correctly."
This statement, made by Juan Ignacio Londero's psychologist, was just a small part of a longer, deeper assessment that lasted into the wee hours of the morning following a quarter-final loss to Facundo Arguello at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Punta del Este, Uruguay. What Londero didn't realize at the time was that his psychologist's evaluation would wind up being a watershed moment in the player's career.
The month was January, and the Argentine had reached a career-high No. 114 in the ATP Rankings. Still, Londero wasn't convinced his ranking reflected his true ability. After receiving a first-round bye at the Punta Open Challenger event, the 26-year-old won his next two matches -- both in straight sets -- before falling to fellow Argentine Arguello in three sets in the quarter-finals.
While the loss to Arguello was shattering, his psychologist's words would prove to be more profound.
"That match changed my year," the No. 56-ranked Londero recalls seven months later. “It was the first time my psychologist, who I had been working with for two years, was coming to all my matches. The match against Arguello ended very late; I stayed with ‘Gringo’ (coach Andres Schneiter), his wife, his children and my psychologist until 2 in the morning. I was devastated because I had been playing so well.”
Londero always had the skills to launch an assault on the sport's upper echelon, but something was holding him back from realising his full potential. “Listening to and absorbing what my psychologist had to say did a lot for me," Londero acknowledges. "It wasn't just what he said but also how he said it. It changed both my approach and my perspective. I kept his words with me.”
The readjustment was prompt, and the results were immediate. A few days after "the talk" Londero defeated Nicolas Jarry in the first round of the Cordoba Open, just a few hundred miles from where he resides in Buenos Aires. By the end of the week, Londero, a wild card at the event, lifted his first ATP Tour championship by defeating countryman Guido Pella 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the final.
The career milestones have piled up since then. By June, he advanced to the fourth round of Roland Garros -- in his first Grand Slam main draw -- before losing to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. Just over a month later, he reached the final of the Swedish Open in Bastad and, earlier this month, he faced off against Roger Federer in a second-round match at the Western & Southern Open. On Monday, he advanced to the second round at the US Open by defeating Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(3), 7-5.
On Wednesday, Londero will meet World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, meaning that in three months, the Argentine will have faced every member of the "Big 3." "I'm living a dream this year," he confesses, just months removed from the loss in Uruguay and the chain of events that have led up to this point. "Everything that is happening is so crazy, and even though it's so confusing, I'm keeping my composure. I'm also not stopping to think. I played against Rafa (Nadal) in Roland Garros and I enjoyed that moment. It was the same when I met Roger (Federer). The final in Bastad (against Jarry) ... I took that result as another phase in the process. This is how I'm channeling my energy."
Londero is taking his second-round match against Djokovic as a challenge in which he can apply what he has learned thus far in his evolution against an elite opponent. "They ('The Big 3') are all different,” he says. “Rafa is a machine of intensity, a player capable of covering every angle of the court. Roger can fire aces and hit winners from out of nowhere. And Novak does everything right. I'm going out there with the plan of having the best time possible on court. I'll need to manage my nerves and hope that the experience I've gained against Nadal and Federer can give me a bit of an edge when it counts against Djokovic."
For what it's worth, 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer had only positive things to say of Londero following their duel in Cincinnati. “He has a strong forehand; it's a tricky shot with lots of movement that he conceals well," Federer said. "I liked what I saw in our match and I'm sure he'll have a solid career. He's relentless; that's a quality that I respect a lot."
All the attention Londero has garnered during his rise through the ranks isn't getting to his head; rather, he’s staying grounded and eager to build on the momentum. “I haven't changed since playing Nadal or Federer,” Londero says. “I'm still the same person I always was. I take nothing for granted, nor do I think I'm entitled to anything. The positive thoughts, the words of encouragement, they mean a lot to me, but for now, I just want to keep progressing and continue my development."