Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
He may have three of his fellow Argentines ahead of him in the ATP Champions Race right now, but a surging Guillermo Canas is healthy once again and arguably playing the best tennis of anyone from South America.
Canas suffered an injury-plagued season in 2003, missing eight months of action and appearing in a mere four ATP events over the entire year. His biggest problem was a right hand injury that required surgery to repair a ligament.
But since returning to the tour back in January, the speedy star has piled up 37 wins against 21 losses, including three titles.
The 26-year-old grinder caught fire in Stuttgart in July, capturing the clay- court Mercedes Cup by upsetting surprise French Open champion and fellow gaucho Gaston Gaudio in the final. Canas duplicated his performance the following week by running the table for a title in Croatia. He put together a 13-match winning streak before finally losing to former world No. 1 Andy Roddick in the third round of the U.S. Open.
Canas has tallied 37 wins, including three titles, this year.
A few weeks later, Canas returned to his winning ways, capturing yet another title, this time in Shanghai. The big victory in China gave him a brilliant 18-1 record over a resurgent 2 1/2-month span.
Canas lost his opening match in Tokyo the week after titling in Shanghai, but returned to form last week by reaching yet another final, in Vienna, before ultimately falling to promising Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who secured his first-ever ATP title in the process. Canas posted key wins over big-serving American Taylor Dent, his countryman David Nalbandian and German stalwart Tommy Haas before succumbing to the lefthanded Lopez in five sets at the BA-CA Tennis Trophy.
Since mid-July, the gritty Canas is 23-4 and currently rests at No. 15 in the Champions Race and No. 16 in the official world rankings.
He finished at No. 15 in the world in both 2001 and 2002 before the injury- riddled '03 campaign, which saw him cross the wire at No. 274 due to inactivity. His quality '02 season (45-23) featured his lone Tennis Masters shield, which came at the Canada Masters in Toronto.
Now the Buenos Aires native is one of the hottest players on the circuit and will continue to place himself inside the top 20 if he can stay healthy, which has been his biggest obstacle over the past few years. A wrist injury in 2000 dropped him to No. 227 in the world, before he returned to action in 2001 to claim ATP Comeback Player of the Year honors. He's in the hunt for that same honor once again this season.
Unfortunately for Canas, he only went a combined 5-4 at the Grand Slams this year, highlighted by a fourth-round appearance at the Australian Open, where he gave way to his compatriot Nalbandian after ousting British star Tim Henman in the round of 32.
Canas bowed out against the clay-court specialist Gaudio in the opening round at Roland Garros and lost to since-retired American Todd Martin in the first round at Wimbledon before winning a couple of matches at the U.S. Open.
Nicknamed "Willy" by his English-speaking peers, Canas grew up admiring another Willy from Argentina, the legendary Guillermo Vilas. Canas claims that he "would love to be as famous as Vilas is in our country." Well, that's probably not going to happen, but Canas has proven that he's a more-than- capable performer on the ultra-competitive men's circuit.