The ATP 250 event “Cordoba Open” marks the beginning of the “Golden Swing,” as the first Clay tournament of the season got underway in Argentina just a day after the curtains were drawn on the Australian Open, which saw Novak Djokovic crowned as champion for the unprecedented ninth time this past Sunday.
Diego Schwartzman in 2020
In its third edition, the home hope, Diego Schwartzman leads the field in Cordoba as the No.1 seed. Named after Argentine legend Diego Maradona, Schwartzman might not be as great as the soccer star, but he certainly carries the baton for Argentine tennis as he enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2020. Schwartzman had a remarkable run at the French Open, where he reached his maiden Grand semifinal.
The pandemic-curtailed season was truly a special one for the 28-year-old. He burst into the Top 10 for the first time in his career and subsequently made his debut at the Nitto ATP finals at London last November.
Traditionally a clay-court specialist, two of the most year-defining–probably career-defining–moments arrived for Schwartzman when he first beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinal at Rome Masters and then outclassed Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros to further enhance his stature on clay courts.
Following his heroics on the red dirt, Schwartzman found it difficult to transition his clay court form to the hard courts. He ended the 2020 season with disappointing outings at the Paris Masters and the season-ending finals.
As far as the 2021 season is concerned, the World No. 9 is yet to find his groove and momentum this year. He stumbled to a comprehensive straight-sets defeat in just the third round of the Australian Open against Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.
However, as Schwartzman returns to his favorite surface in his home tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Argentine is desperately looking forward to pick up where he left off last year on clay to end his current slump in form.
2021 ATP Cordoba Open
As the runner-up of the 2020 Cordoba Open, the home favorite would aim to go one step further this time. Let’s analyze Schwartzman’s probable path to the title at this year’s event.
After receiving a bye in his first Round, Schwartzman will lock horns against Italy’s Marco Cecchinato in his Round of 16 clash on Thursday.
The Argentine leads Cecchinato 2-1 head-to-head, with the former winning their first ever clash on the ATP tour at Buenos Aires on clay, back in 2019. With a strong physique, clean single-handed backhand, and ability to trick his opponents with his clinical dropshots, Cecchinato’s game is tailor-made for clay. He has the potential to hurt Schwartzman, especially if the Argentine shows any signs of rustiness. The Italian won his Round of 32 contest against Hugo Dellien 6-2 4-6 6-1, and will definitely fancy his chances against a tentative Schwartzman, in what promises to be an enticing encounter. Nonetheless, with the plethora of match experience and exposure the Argentine has accumulated over the years by playing against the best and by the stellar form he displayed on clay last year, Schwartzman starts as a firm favorite. We can expect him to return unscathed against the 28-year-old Italian.
Assuming Schwartzman overcomes Cecchinato, the home hope will most likely face Spanish southpaw Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the quarterfinals. Ramos recorded a 4-6 6-2 6-2 comeback victory against Juan Ignacio Londero and will face another Argentine, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, for a quarterfinals spot. Once a Masters 1000 finalist (lost to Nadal at Monte Carlo in 2017), the Spaniard is another clay court specialist like Cecchinato and Schwartzman. Their difference in rankings shows that Schwartzman is more than skilled enough to get past Ramos-Vinolas to book his first semifinal spot since last year’s French Open.
In the semifinals, Schwartzman may likely meet one of his compatriots. He will face either Federico Delbonis or Facundo Bagnis–depending on who wins their upcoming Round of 16 contest. Both these players cruised through their respective first round contests with flying colors. Still, it is hard to imagine either troubling the No.1 seed, especially if he is able to recapture last year’s form.
Possible final opponents
Frenchman Benoit Paire is the No.2 seed at this year’s ATP Cordoba Open. It would be a dream final on Sunday if the top two seeds manage to maneuver through the draw unscathed. The Frenchman is on tour since 2007 and has won all three of his career titles on clay. Schwartzman is going through a title drought himself, as his most recent title triumph came at Los Cabos back in 2019. He had to suffer the being runner-up thrice last year, as he ended second-best in Cordoba, Rome, and Cologne.
Schwartzman might be short in stature, but has a heart of champion. His biggest virtue on a tennis court is his relentless ability to fight until the last point. His self-belief was the single biggest reason behind the tremendous success that he enjoyed last season.
Following his disastrous campaign Down Under, can Schwartzman, in his home tournament and on his favoured surface, start afresh to turn the tide? In the process, can he end his title drought to win his maiden title at Cordoba?
It will be intriguing to follow Schwartzman’s journey at this year’s Cordoba Open!
Main Photo from Getty.