ATP Tour Player Focus: Juan Manuel Cerundolo

ARGENTINIAN rising star Juan Manuel Cerundolo is fast becoming one of the more dangerous clay court talents, albeit on the ITF circuit, as he steadily rises up the ATP Tour world rankings. Starting the 2021 season ranked way down in 341st, Cerundolo has enjoyed a strong year on the clay, currently holding a 42-19 record. It might not be as dominant at his 52-22 year in 2019, but he grabbed his first ATP Tour title in Cordoba this year, and picked up some big scalps along the way.

Rewinding back to the start of the season, Cerundolo reached the final of a Futures tournament, before being bundled out in a Concepcion Challenger in three sets to the dangerous Daniel Altmaier. Featuring in his debut ATP Tour appearance, Cerundolo entered qualifying at Cordoba’s 250 event in his home nation, and won through qualifying to come up against Thiago Seyboth Wild in the opening round. In what was a tough encounter, Cerundolo won against the fellow Next-Gen talent 7-5 7-6, the first of five straight matches where he went in as the underdog.

Cerundolo faced world number 41, Miomir Kecmanovic in his first clash against a Top 100 player. Remarkably after dropping the first set in a tiebreaker, the Argentinian qualifier powered to the most unlikely win, 6-7 7-5 6-2. Then he faced seventh seed and world number 74 Thiago Monteiro, toppling the clay court specialist, again in three sets, 6-2 2-6 6-3. He managed a semi-final win over Federico Coria, before stunning Albert Ramos-Vinolas – the world number 47 at the time – in a 6-0 2-6 6-2 victory in what was an eye-catching performance.

Cerundolo had won an ATP Tour title on debut, and shot up 154 spots into 181st in the world. Unfortunately for the 19-year-old, his hot form ended the next week in the ATP Tour event in Buenos Aires, as he suffered defeat at the hands of world number 86, Federico Delbonis. A second round appearance at Santiago was abruptly ended by Roberto Carballes Baena, and Cerundolo shifted his attention back to the Challenger Tour to remain on his beloved clay. He soon claimed a title win in a Rome Challenger event, either side of first round losses to Canadian Brayden Schnur and United States’ Mackenzie McDonald.

A run to the semi-finals at Zagreb Challenger included another win over Coria, this time in straight sets, and then toppling Botic Van de Zandschulp who has now become most known for his quarter finals run at the US Open. His tournament ended early with a retirement in the first set of the semi-final against Austrian Juan Pablo Varillas when he was 1-5 down. Cerundolo also fell short of qualifying for Roland Garros, losing to Henri Laaksonen in the third round of qualifying. Like all rising teenagers, Cerundolo then hit a form slump, losing six consecutive matches, including round 1 defeats in ATP 250 events, Gstaad and Kitzbuhel. Then a German Challenger event got him back on track.

Cerundolo tore through the Meerbusch event to reach the final, defeating the likes of Kimmer Coppejans, Maximilian Marterer, Filip Horansky and van de Zandschulp along the way, before falling to Chilean Tomas Barrios Vera. He was now inside the Top 150 though, and by the start of September, went on a 12-game winning streak, which included Challenger titles in both Como and Banja Luka. He toppled German Altmaier in the former to reverse the result from early this year, and was the hottest clay court ITF prospect going around. Unfortunately, after looking to continue that run in Lima last week, Cerundolo reached the quarter finals, won the first set, but soon ran into trouble and had to retire early in the third set.

Whilst his 6-3 record on the ATP Tour is nothing flash, winning a title on debut, and dominating late in the year on the Challenger clay sets him up for a big 2022. Still only 19, Cerundolo is ranked seventh in the Next-Gen race, and if fit, would test himself against the other top young talents. The huge question mark is the fact he has not played on other surfaces, and would struggle against the other Next-Gen players who have more ATP Tour experience, especially on the hard courts. Nonetheless, if he can start getting more familiar with the other surfaces, watch out.

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