New and improved
Surprising Caņas using his suspension as motivation
Posted: Friday March 30, 2007 11:46AM; Updated: Friday March 30, 2007 2:18PM
That's twice in a row now that Guillermo Caņas has mowed down Roger Federer, and the Argentine has blazed a trail through the rest of the Sony Ericsson Open field in the process. But let's get a few things straight before we declare Caņas as the player who will keep Federer from achieving Pete Sampras' records and "Greatest Player Ever" title.
Caņas didn't just materialize out of sand particles or rise one day from the middle of the ocean and walk on water to land with a racket cocked and ready to go in his right hand. Caņas did come out from under the rock to which he had been banished after testing positive for the banned substance hydrochlorothiazide diuretic more than two years ago.
But before his suspension, Caņas was a very accomplished player who reached as high as No. 8 in the world. He had success on all surfaces: He won the Masters event in Montreal on hard courts in 2002, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon '01 and two quarterfinals at the French Open. He also has several other clay-court titles under his belt.
Caņas has always been considered a player capable of beating anyone, a tough competitor whose play is predicated on his physicality and solid, well-rounded game.
I grew up playing against him in junior internationals, and his game was the same then as it is now. He was a tough-as-nails competitor who relied on his speed and consistency. He was on the Argentinean Junior Davis Cup Team with Mariano Zabaleta and Mariano Puerta, another player suspended as a professional for the use of banned substances. My team defeated them in the finals, but even then I knew that Caņas' game would translate into professional success.
It didn't take him long on the ATP Tour to earn the reputation as a dogged worker who was capable of beating anyone -- and then came the drug suspension.
In previous columns, I've bemoaned players for testing positive, denying any wrongdoing, coming up with far-fetched excuses, getting their suspensions significantly decreased and coming back to the tour rested and ready to conquer the world again.
This case is no different. My fellow players fully anticipated Caņas returning and finding immediate success. It's in his character to work his tail off and that's exactly what he did during his suspension. Instead of wallowing in his poor fortune, he practiced like an animal during his suspension (he has denied using any substances, but getting caught -- that's the rarity).
I'm sure Caņas rationalized that he had been wronged and armed himself with the belief that some incredible injustice had occurred. That gave him just enough motivation to pound tennis ball after tennis ball until he came back on tour last fall with a vengeance. He proceeded to dominate the lower-level challenger tournaments and doesn't show any signs of slowing down soon.
These days he resembles a tank, adding even more strength to an already bullish physique, and it shows in his incredible court movement and mobility. He has caused Federer problems because of his movement, consistency and, most of all, his ever-growing belief that he can beat him.
Maybe Caņas benefited from being away from the tour for 15 months with his head buried in the sand, because he didn't have to witness Federer's domination and thus didn't develop the fear and resignation that most other players have when faced with playing the world No. 1.
The fact is, Caņas is playing like a top-10 player, and he will have a tremendous year. He's beating upper-tier players consistently, adding straight-sets wins over Richard Gasquet and Tommy Robredo to his recent conquests. And don't think he is any bit more afraid of playing Rafael Nadal on the dirt than he was of playing Federer on hard courts.
Caņas is for real, and you'd better get used to seeing him in the later stages of big tournaments. Whether he likes it or not, stories of his drug suspension will rightfully follow him closely as he continues to succeed. But how he handled his time during his suspension is playing a big part in him becoming an enormous player.