Editor’s note: This story was translated from ATPTour.com/es.
Not being too frustrated in defeat or getting too carried away after wins has been Argentine player Tomas Martin Etcheverry’s main goal recently on the ATP Tour. But that search for balance in his career has required a lot of discipline, and above all, time. When he was nine years old, after losing in the semi-finals of a junior tournament in Carilo, a few hours by car from his home in La Plata, he cried so much that his parents regretted ever having introduced him to the game of tennis.
“I remember that match. I was very young and I liked the trophy. It had coloured and golden things on it. I wanted to win and have it in my room, whatever the cost. But I lost and I cried all the way back home,” Etcheverry recalled in an interview with ATPTour.com. “We all have things from the past we’d like to change. But it’s also part of the process.”
One thing that never needed addressing was his attitude on court. Apart from being committed and respectful to his opponents, he was always aware that he should not take his failure out on his racquet. “I’ve never broken or hit a racquet in my life. My teachers instilled that in me. And I feel like it’s not the racquet’s fault. Also, I was always really relaxed. I wasn’t one to go looking for trouble,” adds the 23-year-old right-hander, who stands at 6-foot-5. What did need work was his reaction after a defeat, as was the case in Carilo.
His opponent at that tournament was none other than Francisco Cerundolo, now No. 31 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and one of his closest friends. Cerundolo also remembers that match in the province of Buenos Aires. “We were very little. We didn’t know each other. We both wanted to win, I managed to do that in the third set and he left crying. It’s just the emotions of that age,” remembers Cerundolo, currently Argentina’s top-ranked player on the ATP Tour.
But that episode is truly a thing of the past. The current version of Etcheverry is very different. Now he always looks relaxed, whatever it says on the scoreboard. “The idea is to control myself, to know what I did wrong. I don’t cry anymore and I can’t remember the last time I did because I lost a match. Now I get upset if I doubted myself at a key moment or when I think I could have done things differently. That’s when I start to be hard on myself, but I let it go quickly”.
Cerundolo himself has witnessed Etcheverry’s rapid evolution in the way he handles his emotions. “He controls them very well. I’m surprised how relaxed he is on and off the court. He tries not to get too high or too low. And I think it is working because he’s having a very good year,” explains his compatriot.
However, the calmness shown by the 23-year-old on court is by no means a reflection of what is going on under the surface as he competes. “Negative thoughts cross your mind. It’s inevitable. The key is how much importance you place on them. You have to try not to hamper yourself so much, do the best you can, and that is sufficient,” adds Etcheverry. “That’s how I do it anyway. There are other players that vent their anger. It’s a question of finding the best way for you.”
Working with psychologists for many years has helped him find his road to catharsis. He has been talking with his current psychologist every week for three years, almost always remotely. There are even weeks when they talk every single day. This is a priority in the Argentine’s life.
“Mental health is very important in a sport where there is a lot of pressure. And it’s good to be able to work on your mind because it’s a very important weapon,” Etcheverry said. But tennis is not all they talk about during their sessions. “It also helps me personally because I keep things inside. So I can unload with him, and it frees me up, which is the thing I value the most,” he explained.
Playing without so much internal noise has allowed him to grow rapidly in recent times. In April 2022 he made his breakthrough into the Top 100 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, and in April this year he climbed into the Top 60. In addition, in 2023 he played his first two ATP Tour finals, in Santiago (l. to Nicolas Jarry) and in Houston (l. to Frances Tiafoe).
“He has a crazy amount of potential, I’ve always said that as his friend,” explains Cerundolo. “To me, Tomy plays incredibly well, he is very tall, he defends very well. Luckily now he’s playing ATP [Tour events], he’s played a final. Let’s hope he continues to improve. He could end this year in the Top 50.”
Etcheverry, currently the World No. 61, will be looking to keep progressing as he makes his maiden appearance at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. He won his opener 7-6(7), 6-3 against Frenchman Luca Van Assche, and will now face Novak Djokovic in his first match against a member of the Top 10. His goals are ambitious, but staying calm in order to achieve them is not negotiable.