Francisco Cerundolo Claims Third Challenger Title in Campinas

Francisco Cerundolo in action on the ATP Challenger Tour

The Campinas Challenger final featured a battle between two excellent clay-courters: Francisco Cerundolo and Roberto Carballes Baena. Having won two Challenger titles in the past three months, the Argentinian has been in fantastic form since the tour restarted. But he did not have things all his own way in Campinas and when he was taken all the way to a third-set tiebreak by Facundo Mena in the second round, it looked like Cerundolo’s good run was about to end.

But that wasn’t the case. He managed to scrape past Mena and he found some spectacular form thereafter. The top seed and ATP world #102 Roberto Carballes Baena also had to endure his fair share of struggles on his path to the final, with his run hardly a bed of roses. Almost beaten by Vit Kopriva in his second match, Carballes Baena had to dig deep and pull out some of his best tennis throughout the week.

Avoid the forehand at all costs

Carballes Baena struggled on serve in the early stages of the final. In the third game, the Spaniard went down 0-40 after two unforced errors and a fabulous dropshot and volley combination from Cerundolo. After missing his first serve, he knew that the Argentinian would be looking for a big return. But this knowledge gave him nothing as with seemingly very little time, Cerundolo went around his backhand to fire a forehand missile to the corner that just couldn’t be answered.

Cerundolo’s forehand was indeed the star of the early exchanges and Carballes Baena soon found out that it’s best to avoid it. Keeping the Argentinian on the backhand side and slowly working his way through the points he was able to get the break back instantly.

But Cerundolo kept putting the pressure on Carballes Baena with deep returns and inside-out forehands. Getting ahead in the Spaniard’s service game at 3-3, a huge backhand return at the opponent’s feet allowed him to set up a straightforward put away. Breakpoint down, Carballes Baena completely whiffed as he was treated with another return with great depth. Cerundolo was then able to hold to that advantage and take the first set 6-4.

MTO kills the momentum

3-2 up in the second set, Carballes Baena received treatment for what looked like an issue connected to his lower back. Being slightly hurt seemed to be extremely frustrating the Spaniard who only needed a couple more points to start throwing his racket around. Weirdly enough, it was in that game that his defending really peaked, especially in an absurd on the run counter off Cerundolo’s smash. The Argentinian’s forehand finally misfired as he sent a ball way long down a breakpoint.

How much of that was the impact of the medical timeout, we’ll never know. But the bottom line is – after the break the momentum completely reversed and it felt like the match has gotten off to a new start. Carballes Baena was now able to keep Cerundolo behind a lot more and the Argentinian just didn’t show that much hunger and intent to keep dictating the play with his forehand as he did from the very beginning of the match. The Spaniard had a lot more to say in the rallies at that point and served out the set six games to three, taking one of the points with a backhand smash.

As the break between sets on a clay court lasts a bit longer than on the other surfaces, there was hope that Cerundolo could reset mentally and get over the lost advantage. But it most certainly wasn’t the case as the first game saw him misfire wildly to lose the fourth game in a row. His forehand lost its mix of potency and precision and on top of that, it seemed to have taken his shot selection down with it.

Forehand clicking again

But suddenly, Cerundolo livened up and his forehand was able to pile the pressure on Carballes Baena. Breaking at 1-2 down with three forehand winners and a well-hidden dropshot, it was clear that it’s all about confidence for the Argentinian. Looking for these big shots again, everything was coming together, he seemed eager to play and took risks without fear. And clearly, his issues with the shot selection were all mental. As soon as he got back on track, it was again very much on point.

That level of play was too much for Carballes Baena, whose serve just couldn’t handle the big forehand returns from Cerundolo’s racquet. The Spaniard lost the next five games without really doing anything wrong, Cerundolo was simply too good. Although serving out a match can be tricky business, with Cerundolo’s confidence sky-rocketing, the outcome never really looked in doubt as he took the game and the match without losing a single point.

It made it a great finish to an amazing season for Cerundolo. If the 22-year-old’s progress continues at this rate, and there’s a normal clay-court season next year, he seems almost a lock to make it to the top 100 sooner or later. For now, he makes a new career-high of 139, jumping over 100 spots in the shortened season that we’ve just had. Meanwhile, Carballes Baena made enough points to return to that elite number and deny Andrej Martin a year-end top 100 finish.

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