Whatever happens next in the tennis career of North Vancouver's Filip Peliwo, he will now forever know that in 2012 he was the best junior player in the world.
The 18-year-old topped off a remarkable season by winning the U.S. Open junior boys title Sunday, completing a year in which he made all four junior Grand Slam finals and won two of them.
Peliwo knocked off Liam Broady 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 in the U.S. Open final, avenging two previous losses to the British teen. In his breakthrough season Peliwo finished runner-up at the Australian and French Opens before finally reaching the top at Wimbledon and then again in New York. He is the first player to reach all four junior Grand Slam finals since Australian Mark Kratzmann did it in 1984. The U.S. Open win vaulted Peliwo back into the No. 1 junior ranking, a position that he will occupy until the end of the year even though he's not expecting to play again as a junior.
Peliwo has never lacked confidence - he's proclaimed since age 8 that he wants to be No. 1 in the world - but he admits that one year ago he had little idea that this was coming.
"I wasn't sure how the year was going to go - I was hoping for maybe one good result in a Grand Slam, to maybe make a semifinal or final," Peliwo said in a conference call from Montreal on Monday. "I wasn't sure what to expect exactly because I didn't really have any great results the year before. This really came as a surprise. . . . It's definitely been a great year and one that I couldn't have imagined at the beginning of the year."
Peliwo's amazing run has been marked by tough play in tight matches and he's developed a reputation as a tenacious fighter on the court. Sunday's final was no exception as Broady and Peliwo were tied 5-5 in the final set with the Brit serving to take command of the match. Broady built a 40-0 lead in the game but Peliwo fought off point after point to force deuce and finally took the game on his third break chance.
"I didn't really think about the score too much and tried not to let that get to me," he said. "That would probably make me a little bit nervous if I was thinking it's five-all and I have to break if I want to win without getting into a tiebreaker or him getting a chance to break me to win the match. Honestly I just went for it and once I got that break it was a lot easier to close it out because I'd been in that situation before, I knew what I had to do."
Peliwo did close it out, dropping to his knees with a mighty yell after winning the final point. With the celebration now over, however, Peliwo has a new job: making the difficult jump to the full professional world. The junior wins are nice but the former North Shore Winter Club player said they don't mean much now that age is just a number, not a tournament bracket.
"I'm sure (the junior titles) will help me a little bit but I can't expect to have it translate into the pros too much because it is juniors so the tennis is a lot different," he said. "There are no guarantees that you're going to have a successful pro career just because you had a few good wins at the junior level. It obviously is a different game - it's just a good way to see that you're on the right track."
The next few years will be the most important of his career, said Peliwo.
"I'm going to have to work even harder than I have been just to get to that next level," he said. "The pros are obviously much stronger than the juniors physically, mentally, in every aspect of the game. It's going to be a tough two years but definitely enjoyable and exciting."
Peliwo also knows the history of junior champions - some, like Stefan Edberg, go on to great success at the highest level while some, like old what's-his-name, are never heard from again. That thought, he says, will keep him focused.
"I can't really look too far ahead and think that, 'OK, now I've made it, now I don't have to work as hard, it's going to start coming a lot easier now,'" he said. "I'm just going to have to think about what I have to do to improve and constantly have to strive to improve my game. That's basically it. That's all I can do really - work hard and constantly seek to improve. The results are going to come eventually, hopefully, if that's what I do."
Peliwo has a couple of pro futures tournaments on his calendar to close out 2012 before taking some time off to train for 2013, a year in which he hopes to rise up the pro rankings and earn his way into ATP tour events.
This week he'll be acting as a hitting partner for the Canadian men's team as it prepares for a Davis Cup tie against South Africa. The recent success of Canadian players - particularly Milos Raonic, a former member of the national training centre in Montreal that Peliwo now calls home - gives Peliwo even more hope of one day fulfilling his dream of reaching No. 1.
"It improves my confidence for sure to see that all these Canadians are doing well and it just makes me want to succeed even more," he said. "Especially with Milos starting to do well, that really paved the way for Canadian tennis I think because it showed us that coming from the national centre it's possible to succeed and to do what he has done because he was pretty much on the same road that we are."