Cerundolo A Big Winner This Week In Cordoba

Juan Manuel Cerundolo (photo: @CordobaOpen/Twitter)

CORDOBA/WASHINGTON, March 1, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Before this week, Argentina’s Juan Manuel Cerundolo had never competed in an ATP Tour main draw match. He had barely started competing on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit. That all changed at the Cordoba Open, the ATP Tour’s first red clay tournament of the year in the Argentine provincial capital city of Cordoba, known for its Spanish colonial architecture.

It’s in Cordoba that the 19-year-old Cerundolo, ranked 335th in the world, garnered everyone’s attention, raised just a few eyebrows and received plenty of plaudits from the small but vocal crowds on Cancha Central each time he raised his arms in victory. The NextGen ATP rising star from Buenos Aires made some Argentine tennis history along with his older brother Francisco, 22, also in the Cordoba main draw for the first time, making them the first siblings from Argentina to feature at the same tournament since 1981.

After the younger Cerundolo survived three rounds of qualifying just to earn a spot in the main draw, round by round he continued to win. Poised and proud, he beat Thiago Seyboth Wild, third seed Miomir Kecmanovic, seventh seed Thiago Monteiro and his good friend Federico Coria to reach the final. All but the victory against Seyboth Wild lasted three sets. By the time he reached the final, the top seeds – World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman and World No. 29 Benoit Paire – were long gone.

Sunday evening, Cerundolo took on fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain in the championship match of the ATP 250 tournament. The young Argentine came ready to play – and, guess what? He won. Cerundolo triumphed over the 33-year-old tour veteran Ramos-Vinolas, 6-0, 2-6, 6-2, in one hour and 50 minutes to lift his first ATP Tour trophy.

“It’s kind of incredible. I can’t believe it,” Cerundolo said after his title triumph, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I’m so happy to [win] this tournament and [achieve] this goal that I was hoping would happen sooner or later. But I can’t believe it. There’s so many things in my head right now that I can’t express all of them. The only thing I can say is that I’m very happy and I’m going to enjoy this night.”

On Saturday, Cerundolo became the first player to reach the final in his Tour debut since Spain’s Santiago Ventura at Casablanca in 2004, when he defeated No. 92 Coria, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, hitting 30 winners and winning 79 percent of his first serves. His 11th victory this season in all competitions also made Cerundolo the youngest Argentine to reach an ATP Tour final since Jose Acasuso, 18, at Buenos Aires in 2001. It was there that Acasuso was coached by Juan Manuel’s father, Alejandro Cerundolo.

Ramos-Vinolas was the only non-Argentine to reach the semifinal round and he played the role of spoiler in fighting off Argentina’s No. 130 Facundo Bagnis, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 to advance against Cerundolo. For Ramos-Vinolas, it would be his first final since 2019 in Kitzbuhel.

In the title match, Cerundolo bageled Ramos-Vinolas 6-0 in the opening set before the Spaniard knew what hit him. But could he hold his nerve in the second and third sets? Cerundolo was immediately broken in the first game of the middle set, which Ramos-Vinolas went on to win 6-2. So, the title match came down to a deciding third set. Immediately, Cerundolo was broken in the first game but soon leveled the set at 2-all with a break of Ramos-Vinolas. In all, the young Argentine would go on to win the last five games of the set – and match – which included three consecutive breaks of Ramos-Vinolas’s serve.

By winning for the 12th time this year, Cerundolo became the youngest Argentine to win an ATP Tour title since Guillermo Coria in 2001.

The most telling signs of Cerundolo’s victory could be found in a couple of statistics: He saved eight of the 11 break points he faced, and he converted six of 13 break-point opportunities against his opponent. Cerundolo outpointed Ramos-Vinolas 81-69.

After he beat Coria to reach the title match, Cerundolo said during an on-court interview, “It was a really tough match; I was playing very solid in the first set but he started to come back and then anything could happen. After the second set, I did well to recover mentally and withstand him.”

Before his tour-level debut in Cordoba, the left-handed hitting Cerundolo had only played 14 ATP Challenger Tour matches, going 7-7. “I would describe myself … as a defensive counter puncher,” he said. “I like to hit with the other guy’s power. When you face powerful opponents like Fed [Coria], you have to go after them a little bit or else things can get complicated.”

Cerundolo, whose world ranking is expected to rise to No. 181,  is already assured a berth in the main draw of this week’s ATP 250 Argentina Open in Buenos Aires, having received a special exemption. His first opponent will be fellow Argentine Federico Delbonis. But first, there will celebrating in Cordoba. For Cerundolo, the future looks very bright.

Matos/Meligeni Rodrigues Alves win doubles title

The Brazilian pair of Rafael Matos and Felipe Meligeni Rodrigues Alves won their first ATP Tour title with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Romain Arneodo of Monaco and Benoit Paire of France in the Cordoba Open doubles final.

Matos and Meligeni Rodrigues Alves, who made their team debut in Cordoba, knocked the No. 1 seeds Austin Krajicek of the United States and Franko Skugor of Croatia out in the quarterfinal round, 7-6 (6), 5-7, 10-2, en route to the final.

“It was a special week,” said Meligeni Rodrigues Alves, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “We were one out [from the main draw], an alternate, and we got in at the last [minute]. It was a really good experience for us just playing in our first ATP [Tour event] together.

“It means a lot for us. Our first time playing ATP and we won, it’s a really good feeling. … I hope we can win more titles together, and even in singles as well.”

By the numbers