He had just dismantled Marin Cilic, the No.3 seed, last year’s finalist and the US Open champion of 2014, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5 over the course of two days and two rain delays to reach the third round. In a lifetime of schlepping around the globe, getting clobbered by the big names and just plain beaten by the lesser lights, the Argentine had dreamed of this moment, hoped for it and worked for it and now that it had finally happened, he could not quite believe it.
“I was looking for this match for years, but I never expect to be here in Wimbledon against Cilic,” he said with a huge smile. “That was the biggest surprise for me, because this is the third time I come here, the first time I win a single match in the main draw, and it was a big surprise.”
Wimbledon has not been kind to Pella in the past. Five years ago, he was deep in the fifth set of his first-round match when he fell and tore his right hamstring. That took months to recover from. His next appearance in the main draw pitted him against Roger Federer in the opening round – and that did not end well. Even this year, he was sploshed by Dominic Thiem in the first round in Australia and flattened by Rafa Nadal in the second round at Roland Garros. He seemed destined for a life of obscurity.
And then the rain came to Wimbledon and Pella’s life changed.
For two sets on Wednesday, Cilic had been doing what Cilic does: serving thunderbolts, clattering the ball from the baseline and creeping forward to punch away his volleys when the occasion presented itself. It was all too much for Pella. Far too much. And then it rained.
The first delay, in the closing stages of the second set, did not seem to bother Cilic much but the second one, a handful of games into the third set, was his undoing. Resuming in the drizzle, Cilic slipped slightly on break point. He did not fall but he was now on the back foot and, losing the point, he dropped his serve for the first time in the match. That was it. Play was called off for the night and Cilic was never the same again.
“The match started so bad for me because he was playing so good, very solid from the baseline with big serves, and I couldn’t do almost nothing,” Pella said. “So the rain came, and today was very different day because I started to feel very good. I close the set in the third with big serves, with big two games. Then I started to feel better and better.
“Last night, Gustavo [Marcaccio, his coach] told me just to be more aggressive, because I was standing a little bit back on the court, so to try to be more aggressive, try to change my serves, not to serve just one way, just to the T, to the wide. And that’s it.”
He makes it sound so simple but a good deal of planning and preparation has gone into this overnight success. Knowing that grass was not his best surface, Pella played three events on the green stuff on his way to Wimbledon, his best result coming in Stuttgart where he lost to Federer in the quarter-finals.
“The way of playing in grass is totally different than any other surface,” he said. “So I just knew I had to be on court as much as I can to play matches, try to practise with the best players, and that’s what I have done in the past month.”
The better Pella played, the more nervous Cilic became. The Croat’s serve fell apart in the fourth set, the forehand disintegrated in the fifth set. And throughout it all, the journeyman turned giant killer (he hones his skills playing video games with God of War being a particular favourite) stayed cool and collected to close out his win.
So now either Pella or the equally unknown Mackenzie McDonald, the world No 103 from America, will be in the fourth round of Wimbledon. The best moment of Pella’s life may be about to get a whole lot better.