Ca?as returns with a vengeance

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Guillermo Ca?as recently rejoined the ATP circuit after serving a 15-month suspension and he's been nothing short of brilliant since his return.

The 29-year-old Ca?as ventured back to work for the ATP in late January, only to lose in his first match (in Zagreb) since June of 2005. But in his very next tournament, the speedy Argentine ran the table on his way to a title in Brazil, where he beat former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final and took out his tough countrymen Agustin Calleri and Juan Ignacio Chela en route to his first title match in three years.

But it wasn't necessarily Ca?as' tennis in Costa do Sauipe that got everyone's attention, it was his pair of shocking upsets over world No. 1 superstar Roger Federer in back-to-back events that officially put him back on the tennis map.

Earlier this month in the California desert, Ca?as stunned the mighty Federer in straight sets in the Swiss' opening match at the Masters Series tournament in Indian Wells, where Federer was the reigning three-time defending champ. That eye-popping victory also halted Federer's amazing 41-match winning streak, which was only five wins shy of Guillermo Vilas' record string.

FYI, Ca?as was named after his legendary countryman Vilas (the first name, not the last).

And then just this week in Miami, everyone expected Federer to exact some revenge on the Argentine, but it was "Willy" who prevailed once again, this time in a three-set fourth-round epic at the Sony Ericsson Open, another big Masters Series event.

Guillermo Ca?as
Ca?as titled in Brazil in February and shocked the great Roger Federer two times in as many back-to-back Masters Series events.
Since 2003, Ca?as is the only other man besides Rafael Nadal to defeat Federer in consecutive tournaments.

Asked how he shocked Federer two times in as many events, Ca?as said: "I don't know what I do, I just know I played very good tennis."

I concur.

So Ca?as (at the time of this article), was off to a stellar 16-3 start this season, including a pair of Davis Cup victories against Austria. He's 2-0 against Federer this year (2-1 for his career) and has also beaten the likes of the Tommy Robredo, former Tennis Masters Cup champion David Nalbandian and promising Frenchman Richard Gasquet. He's also 2-0 versus the aforementioned Ferrero.

Ca?as, who relies on great defense and also serves very well, is certainly no slouch on the tour, as he's finished inside the year-end Top-20 on three occasions, with his most recent one coming in 2004.

The 2001 ATP Comeback Player of the Year (following a return from a wrist injury), Ca?as hit bottom in August of 2005 when he received a suspension for a doping violation. The penalty was a two-year ban and the Buenos Aires native was forced to forfeit just over $276,000 in prize money for using a diuretic called hydrochlorothiazide, a substance with no benefits by itself, other than as treatment for hypertension and to cover other forbidden substances. Ca?as said the diuretic was in a medicine he used for a sore throat that was given to him by ATP doctors during a tournament in Acapulco.

Ca?as fought the sanction and his perseverance paid off in May of last year when he was acquitted, since the substance was in a prescription medication. He was allowed to return to professional tennis in September of last year and it will not cost him just over $276,000 in prize money.

The gritty Ca?as may have been off the tour for 15 months, but that stretch of time allows a player to work on his strength, conditioning, and, most importantly, his game. It would appear as though Willy did all of those things, as evidenced by the type of ball he's playing right now.

Since returning to action in September, Ca?as has captured one ATP title and five Challenger (tennis' minor leagues) events and is up to 55th in the world rankings. He'll enter the Top 50 when the new rankings are released next week, as he was already as deep as the semifinals in Miami at the time of this column. The Argentine made some history in Miami by becoming the first-ever qualifier to reach the final four there.

When it comes to major tennis, Ca?as has never gotten past the quarterfinals at a Slam, as he reached the round of eight at the French Open in both 2002 and 2005. The seven-time ATP titlist's career prize money, however, will eclipse the $4 million mark this week, and that's impressive.

The resurgent Ca?as will take another crack at the French Open in a couple of months and don't be surprised when he makes a return trip inside the Top 20.

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Scott Riley
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