Daniel adapts as Argentine siblings dare to dream

 - Alex Sharp

Japanese fifth seed joins 18-year-old Alcaraz and Cerundolo brothers in second-round qualifying

Taro Daniel, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

With the next generation snapping at their heels, the likes of 28-year-old Taro Daniel are tirelessly seeking to adapt their game to remain in the mix.

The months surrounding the Grand Slam arena can be brutal, but the world No.112 is evolving his repertoire on and off the court.

Daniel, who last appeared in the Roland-Garros main draw during a second-round run in 2017, fired up his qualifying campaign with a resolute 6-3, 6-4 scoreline against Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi.

“I’m working to add a lot of things to my tennis but also adding on the mental side. I’m looking to the years ahead, how I want to play. It all has greater purpose now,” said the 28-year-old, a semi-finalist in Belgrade and the Oeiras Challenger event this clay-court season.

“The process never stops, but those matches definitely help to come into Paris with better energy." 


Daniel points to the ever-increasing level inside the top 300 and has enlisted a dedicated mental coach since October to combine with his renowned coach Sven Groeneveld.

“Everyone has been involved in the process, all working together," he said. "Before when I worked mentally it was very separate, then I had to explain what I worked on to my coach. So now it’s all done together and it’s been very beneficial. It will be a forever way.”

The Japanese player - who meets Ukrainian stalwart Sergiy Stakhovsky in round two - sees himself at a crossroads in his career, lauding Groeneveld for developing such a smooth set-up.

Taro Daniel, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“Before I’ve been in a very strict environment, I was moulded by getting scolded, to not make that mistake again, which I think suited me when I was younger to install a level of discipline,” revealed Daniel, who has worked with the Dutchman since December 2019.

“It’s still ingrained in me, a strong habit which I have to break. I think when I was younger I don’t think I would have been able to handle such an open work life I have with Sven. I’m 28 and I now need to learn to be more independent on court. He makes me focus on the right things.”

High praise for Alcaraz

Last Friday, Daniel’s Oeiras run was ended by Spanish prodigy Carlos Alcaraz in the last four, emphasising his desire to keep adapting.

“Yeah I had a hard time coming to terms with the young generation coming in a couple years ago. They were still pretty wild, loads of mistakes, I didn’t believe they were that great," he said.

"Now you can see they are better mentally, better physically than I was as a teenager. Especially Alcaraz, he has such an exceptional attitude on court, a very humble guy considering all the expectations put on him. I was very impressed by him and it shows how much tennis is changing.”

Alcaraz - the youngest player to crack the top 100 since a 17-year-old Borna Coric in 2014 - also progressed in Paris on Tuesday.

The Oeiras champion, up to world No.94, put in a patient performance to out-manoeuvre Lukas Lacko 6-3, 6-3 off the back of a strong serving display and 21 winners.

The 18-year-old moves on to tackle Italy’s Andrea Pellegrino hoping to edge closer to his maiden Roland-Garros main draw.

Cerundulo brothers up and running

In February, 19-year-old Juan Manuel Cerundolo qualified and then roared to the Cordoba title on home soil. A week later elder brother Francisco, 22, almost matched his sibling with a run to the final in Buenos, denied by Argentine compatriot Diego Schwartzman.

The brothers have transferred those experiences to Paris, both posting debut wins in Roland-Garros qualifying.

Francisco Cerundolo, Roland Garros 2021, qualifying first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

“I feel amazing. It’s our favourite Grand Slam in Argentina, so it’s a dream come true to be here competing,” said world No.116 Francisco, who prevailed 6-2, 7-6(2) against Roberto Cid Subervi to set up a showdown with American Thai-Son Kwiatkowski.

“What he (Juan Manuel) did before motivated me, it inspired me that we could play with the best players and reach for the top 100.”

As for Juan Manuel, the 19-year-old pipped countryman Andrea Collarini 7-5 in the decider to book a clash with Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat.


“We are so proud, we are achieving many goals that we set when we were younger, but we can play without any pressure,” Juan Manuel said. “At the moment it’s an amazing experience, we support each other, we love each other a lot, so we are just very happy to share the tour together.”

The 19-year-old, a Rafael Nadal fan who would welcome a dream match against the defending champion, pointed to their parents’ impact.

“They were tennis players too, they understand the emotions, the hard moments we have to affront," Juan Manuel said. "It’s an unbelievable experience for our family.”