Feb. 20, 2014
By: Summer Gilhousen, FSU Sports Information Intern
After suffering from a stress fracture in his right hand during last year's tennis season, which prevented him from playing most of the season, Cristian Gonzalez Mendez was determined more than ever to fight for a comeback that would place him further than he has ever been in his 12 years of playing tennis.
"I did get to finish out last season with playing in the first round of the NCAAs against Cal Berkley, but my performance was disappointing," said the junior. "I knew a tough summer was up ahead with endless days of practicing, playing and getting my game back."
During that summer, I traveled with Cristian to his home country, Spain. I, along with his family, witnessed and supported every step Cristian took to recover. We spent the summer traveling across Galicia, Spain to numerous tennis tournaments, including the Calleja Open, Galician Championship (in which he was the doubles champion), Open Codesal, and Spain Futures in Nigran.
"My tennis tournament tour in Spain this past summer started off very slow," admits Gonzalez Mendez. "I was out of shape - or as in the words of my dad, I was `muy gordo' - which limited my athleticism and stamina on the court."
The Spaniard did not let that stop him though. Tournament after tournament, he progressed and played better, capping off his last few days in Spain playing the Spain Futures in Orense. In the first round of the main draw, Gonzalez was set to play world ranked professional No. 361 and the tournament's No. 1 seed, Ricardo Rodriquez.
"I honestly did not have high hopes in the match against Rodriquez," explains Gonzalez Mendez. "However, I think that ultimately helped me win the match. I had no pressure on my shoulders; I was just going out there and giving my all. Once I won the first set, I thought to myself `wow, I can really win this.'"
Defeating No. 361 Rodriquez 6-3 6-4, to earn his first ATP Point was the spark that lighted Gonzalez Mendez's fire when he returned to Florida State University. His first tournament of the fall season was the Bedford Cup hosted at FSU.
"Going into the Bedford Cup, I felt more confident in my game and was determined to prove that I was back and better than ever," said the Seminole.
Gonzalez Mendez competed against and defeated players from UNF and UCF, and teammates Grayson Goldin and Jose Gracia before reaching the finals to play another teammate, Michael Rinaldi. In a tight and brutal three-and-a-half hour match, Gonzalez Mendez became the third Bedford Cup Singles Champion after defeating Rinaldi 6-4 5-7 7-6 (7-2).
One month later, the 6'4" righty conquered the courts at the USTA Clay Court Invitational at Disney. After defeating nationally ranked players, Michael Alford (University of Florida), Daniel Leitner (University of South Alabama) and Carlos Bautista (Tulsa University), Gonzalez Mendez headed to the center court, surrounded by ESPN cameras, to play Martin Redlicki in the semifinals.
"Other than making it to the semifinals, I was most excited to play the match that was airing on ESPN3," said Gonzalez Mendez. "Although I lost to Redlicki, it made the whole experience more intense and exciting."
Now, after two months into the official 2014 tennis season, it is no surprise that Gonzalez Mendez holds a 17-2 winning record. Securing points on courts 3 and 4, the junior is an essential player for the Seminoles. Just last week, he achieved one of his collegiate goals as he is now ranked No. 98 in the nation.
"My teammates, fans and family like to classify me as the frustrating type of tennis player who goes into three sets more often than not; I fight and comeback for the wins," explains Gonzalez Mendez. `With that notion and my regeneration on the courts this past year, I guess you can call me `The Comeback Kid.'"