Paris, Jun 3 (IANS): Juan Pablo Varillas claimed the biggest win of his life on Friday by defeating Hubert Hurkacz to book a place in the fourth round of Roland Garros, becoming the first Peruvian to reach the last 16 since Jaime Yzaga in 1994.
Before beating Poland's Hurkacz, Varillas had to fend off three fifth-set match points against Chinese player Shang Juncheng in the first round, and Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.
In the process, he also managed to send a message of hope to the young people of Peru.
"I think it's a very good thing for my country. Being a professional tennis player is not an option there, so this is a good example for the children. With hard work, discipline, perseverance and belief in yourself, I think it's possible. It will be a good boost for the children to continue to pursue their dreams of being professional tennis players so that their parents don't pressure them," said Varillas.
"It's an incredible feeling and it's difficult to describe because this triumph is a result of many years of hard work, of coming through the ranks, of making sacrifices all the time, of the support of my team, my family and the people around me. That leads you to experience and enjoy moments like this," he added.
It was precisely those people that stopped him from retiring from tennis in 2016. Back then, struggling with the dip in confidence that comes with a lack of results and after six months of fruitless hard work in Barcelona, Varillas was considering hanging up his racquet. Suddenly, the words of his idol Rafael Nadal had stopped making sense.
"Hopefully we'll meet someday on Tour. Practise hard!," the Spaniard told him in 2013 during an exhibition in Peru, where they played a doubles match together.
The four photos of Rafael Nadal hanging on the walls of his parents' home in Lima went from being a motivation to a reminder of a time when he seemed to have reached a dead end. The dream of coinciding with his hero had all but evaporated.
"I thought 'I'm not cut out for this, competition on this level is not for me'," admitted Varillas.
In fact, he considered going back to studying engineering at the Catholic University of Lima, a degree he had set aside years early to fully focus on tennis.
However, the Lima native trusted the advice of his loved ones. Since then, slowly but surely, the results have kept coming. The 2020 Australian Open was his first experience of a major, and despite losing in the second round of qualifying, he shared a locker room with Nadal and realised that it had been worthwhile fighting for his dream. Finally, he crossed paths with his idol on the professional circuit.
Last August, he broke into the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings and this week in Paris he has claimed his first three wins at a major.
"Doing that here is special. Roland Garros is the tournament I always dreamed of playing in. I have also dreamed of winning matches here, and it's amazing now that it's happening. I'm so proud," added the world No. 94.
Varillas now surely faces the biggest challenge of his career; Novak Djokovic in the fourth round at Roland Garros. He only learned who his opponent would be a few minutes after sealing his passage to the next round.
"I didn't know, I found out in the on-court interview. Playing against one of the biggest players in history on one of the most amazing courts on Tour... I'm so excited about the opportunity of going out there and winning. It's the perfect stage to continue this great week," he said.