Cerundolo outfoxing the opposition

Argentine's love of brain games could stand him in good stead in the fourth round

Francisco Cerundolo, third round, Roland-Garros 2023© Philippe Montigny/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

When your father is a former tennis player, your brother has already won a title on the ATP Tour and your sister is a youth Olympics gold medallist in field hockey, then perhaps it’s no surprise that Francisco Cerundolo should be a success in his chosen field.

And when you’re Argentinian and that chosen field is tennis, then where better to succeed than Roland-Garros, the haven of clay, where on Saturday the 24-year-old reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Riding the wave of a career-high ranking of No.23, Cerundolo reached the quarter-finals in Barcelona and Rome and excels on the red dirt, the surface on which he won his only title to date, in Bastad.

His win over Taylor Fritz on Saturday set up a clash with Holger Rune in the last 16 and to say he’s enjoying himself would be a major understatement. “Super happy,” he told reporters at Roland-Garros. “Of course it was a great battle [against Fritz] so I'm super happy to get the win and be in the second week of a Grand Slam.

“Hopefully I can keep going and keep playing like this. I'm playing more with confidence, and I'm really happy.”

It all adds up

Born in Buenos Aires, Cerundolo was destined to play tennis, not least because his parents run an academy there. As a child he looked up to another Argentinian player, David Nalbandian, and idolised Roger Federer.

After studying at the University of Buenos Aires, Cerundolo played college tennis in the United States at the University of South Carolina. According to the ATP Tour, he is now pursuing a bachelor's degree in management through online courses with the University of Palermo, focusing on economics and finance, which explains his love of numbers – and perhaps his clever use of angles on the court.

“I love everything with numbers. I love looking at stats," he told the ATP Tour website. "It is not that I use it too much in tennis, but I probably discuss with my coach or my parents some stats that I’ve seen. Brain games are also fun for me."

Ready for the top table?

The way he outfoxed Fritz in four sets showed he knows his way around a clay court, and he’s set to break into the world’s top 20 for the first time after Roland-Garros. Despite that, he says he still doesn’t feel like a top, top player.

“I don't feel I belong to the top 10 because I'm not even top 20,” he said. “I think I'm going to be top 20 or probably close to that next week. But I'm working to get to that level, I think I'm closer, but I have to keep going, to keep winning, and keep improving. So hopefully one day I can be in that top-10 players.

“I have been playing really good. I have beaten many players that are top 10, top 20 this past month. Yeah, my level is improving for sure, but I don't belong to that top-10 guys. I'm happy to be [beating] those players and the other ones also.”

Francisco Cerundolo, 3e tour, Roland-Garros 2023©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Eyes on the prize

He’ll need to maintain his form and focus against Rune, the No.6 seed, whom he beat in their only previous meeting, on the Challenger Tour. That, though, was in 2019, before the 20-year-old Rune soared into the top 10.

“I played him in 2019 I think in a Challenger,” he said. “It was the week after he won here the French Open juniors, I think. I don't remember too much. I knew he was going to be a great guy because he was 16 or whatever, and he was playing amazing.

But now he's top-10, top-5 guy. He did amazing this past week. Final in Monte-Carlo and Rome, title in Munich. He's a great clay-court player so it's going to be a really tough match.

“I hope I can play the level I have been playing these past days, because I think I have my chances but I'm going to focus on my game and try to play my best and get the win.”