It was one of the biggest Cinderella stories of all time. Sitting outside the Top 300 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and having previously never competed on the ATP Tour, Argentina’s Juan Manuel Cerundolo captured the title at the Cordoba Open in February. The 19-year-old had never even reached an ATP Challenger Tour final when he streaked to his maiden tour-level crown on home soil.
This week, Cerundolo added another piece of silverware to his fast-growing trophy haul – his first at the Challenger level. The surging #NextGenATP star prevailed on the clay of Rome to complete the ATP Tour-ATP Challenger title double.
Cerundolo, who is projected to rise to a career-high No. 152 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, is the first player to win on both tours in the same season since 2019. In addition, his victory makes him the youngest Argentine champion on the Challenger circuit in 12 years, when Federico Delbonis won in Manerbio, Italy, in 2009.
2021 Teen Titlists
|Dominic Stricker||18 years, 7 months||Lugano, SUI|
|Juan Manuel Cerundolo
||19 years, 5 months||Rome II, ITA|
|Brandon Nakashima||19 years, 6 months||Quimper II, FRA|
|Carlos Gimeno Valero||19 years, 8 months||Gran Canaria II, ESP|
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Cerundolo in Rome. After not dropping a set in reaching the semi-finals, the Buenos Aires native was forced to rally from a set and a break down against home hope Alessandro Giannessi on Saturday. And on Sunday, he would be tested by another Italian, 18-year-old Flavio Cobolli. Competing in just his fourth Challenger main draw, Cobolli pushed Cerundolo to a deciding set, where he battled back from a break down twice.
The Argentine would eventually cross the finish line 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 after one hour and 44 minutes. The final match-up was just the sixth between teenagers on the ATP Challenger Tour since 2007.
With the victory, Cerundolo moves up to fifth in the ATP Race To Milan, as he continues his quest for a debut appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
✅ ATP Tour title
✅ ATP Challenger title@juanmacerundolo is the champion in Rome! The first player to win an @atptour 🏆 and an #ATPChallenger 🏆 in the same season since 2019. pic.twitter.com/kad5SuzJ7V
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) May 2, 2021
Cerundolo spoke to ATPTour.com following his maiden Challenger title…
Juan Manuel, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. Can you describe your emotions? How does it feel?
I’m too happy. I can’t describe it right now. It’s amazing to win my first Challenger. I’m having a great year, winning my first ATP title and now my first Challenger. I just can’t believe it. It’s inspiring for sure. I’m motivated to work even harder.
Winning at this level is never easy. Were you nervous today?
Yes, of course, it was my first Challenger final. I really wanted to win, but I knew Flavio was having a great week. It was a great week for me too, so I was nervous but had a lot of confidence to win.
You were down a set and a break yesterday. Where does your mental strength come from? Do you surprise yourself in those moments?
Well, yesterday was a very tough match. I really don’t know where my mental strength comes from. I just try to take it step-by-step and point-by-point. I am so patient and don’t rush, so I think that is the key to these matches.
After a big week on the ATP Tour, it is not easy to return to the Challengers. Describe that transition for you, after Cordoba.
Cordoba was an amazing week. I’m not used to playing ATPs, but I also haven’t been playing many Challengers. This is all new to me, but I feel I am doing a good job and hope to play even more ATPs in the future. That will give me a better ranking and make a big difference.
Photo credit: Delfina Novillo
When you look back on Cordoba, what is the biggest lesson you learned from that week?
The biggest thing I learned was to keep working hard to get back to that level. And trusting in my team. I need to still work like this every day, because one tournament does not make a career.
You are the youngest champion from Argentina since 2009. How do you manage the pressure and expectations?
It’s not easy, but I think I like it. It’s good to feel like people trust you and have confidence in you. It’s motivating and inspiring and I do like it.
You and your brother Francisco both won Challenger titles in the past year. How do you support each other? Describe his impact on you.
He’s my big brother and it’s amazing that we can share the tour together. We have great moments and he supports and helps me with all these things I don’t know yet. I never played these big matches before and he did, so it’s nice to have that. I can learn a lot from him and we support each other in the matches. We both want to win.
Another player from Argentina, Sebastian Baez, is also having a great year. Do you motivate and inspire each other?
Yes, of course, Sebastian is a very good friend on the tour. I talk a lot with him and share some good moments together. We talk a lot during the year and push each other to do even better. We train together at home too. I want him to win too because he’s my friend. It’s a good relation.