Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna looked to the crowd and smiled, fist-pumping towards the blue Buenos Aires sky.
For Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna, his 6-4 6-2 win over Facundo Diaz Acosta to win the Buenos Aires Challenger was a few months in the making. His last five events of the 2021 season included two Challenger quarterfinals, an ITF semifinal, and an ITF title. Rodriguez Taverna was slowly putting his game together.
And now, in his first event of the 2022 season, Rodriguez Taverna has a Challenger title to his name.
Dropping only one set all week (to Mats Rosenkranz) and winning 9-straight sets, the No. 302-ranked Argentine dominated the field in Buenos Aires. His ranking is set to rise to World No. 266 in the live rankings, a new career high.
At this time last season? Rodriguez Taverna was ranked at World No. 535.
Rodriguez Taverna did not have the toughest road to the title, but beating Paz, Casanova, Lama, and Diaz Acosta without dropping a set, not the easiest feat on clay.
The Argentine dominated on return, creating 52 break point chances in his five matches and breaking serve 18 times. He also did a good job of protecting his own serve, only facing 21 a combined break points and getting broken 7 times, which is certainly not bad numbers on red clay.
Rodriguez Taverna’s game centers around his huge, heavy forehand. He uses the forehand wing to dominate the baseline and put a lot of pressure on opponents in how he makes the court feel small.
Now, one might see Rodriguez Taverna’s janky-looking backhand and immediately write him off, in terms of how awkward that wing looks.
And, it might be true that the backhand puts a ceiling on Rodriguez Taverna’s game. However, with that said, he really does make the shot work for him. Rodriguez Taverna is often able to muscle the backhand back into play with decent depth and with weird spins that throw his opponent’s rhythm and timing off.
And that’s part of the “charm” of the Argentine’s game, where you don’t get consistency in terms of how on the forehand wing you’re getting, deep heavy shots, and on the backhand wing you’re getting shorter shots with weird spins and so it’s hard to find that rhythm that so many tennis players are accustomed to.
And don’t think bringing Rodriguez Taverna into the net is the way to go, as he has great touch and good instincts for when is the right time to move forward.
Now, it is important to note that the field in Buenos Aires was certainly weaker due to some of the most-talented Challenger clay courters in Australia trying to qualify for the Australian Open.
But, similar to Igor Marcondes winning his first Challenger late last season in similar circumstances (in that case many of those Challenger clay players were enjoying their off-season), just the experience of playing in that final and winning a Challenger is a confidence-boosting, worthwhile experience.
As World No. 67 Hugo Gaston knows, it is not easy to get over the finish line and win a Challenger regardless of how good a player is (Gaston is 0-4 in Challenger finals).
For Rodriguez Taverna, this Challenger title is yet another building block as he works towards, perhaps, some success at the ATP Tour level during the Golden Swing and, eventually, getting into qualifying for the French Open.
His opponent in the final, Facundo Diaz Acosta, shares similar hopes. The lefty was also in his first Challenger title and, like Rodriguez Taverna, has had an uptick in results starting late last season. His current live ranking is at World No. 303, a new career high.
Diaz Acosta’s heavy lefty forehand was key for him all week, as he made the final without losing a set. Of course, that came to a grinding halt once Rodriguez Taverna was able to establish that his forehand was further-developed than Diaz Acosta’s and would be the shot that takes control of baseline exchanges.
And so it was Santiago Fa Rodriguez Taverna who was the story of Buenos Aires, his home city, on Sunday.
While the 22 year-old Argentine has not made too many waves across the tennis universe yet, if he can continue to produce at this level on the forehand side, then the results and ensuing accolades will soon follow.
Main Photo from Getty.