Mariano Navone: First Seeded Grand Slam Debutant Ever

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Mariano Navone played qualifying at four consecutive Grand Slam events between the 2023 French Open and 2024 Australian Open, but he’s making his Slam main draw debut this week. What’s unusual about it is that he’s already seeded, making him the first player in the Open Era to achieve this status in his premier Major appearance. He’s already defeated Pablo Carreno Busta and will take on Tomas Machac on Thursday.

Meteoric rise, five Challenger titles in 2023

While Navone had displayed some potential before June 2023, particularly in the back-to-back Challenger 50 finals he made the year earlier, not much was suggesting that he was right on the verge of a massive breakthrough that summer. He got blown out by Lukas Klein in French Open qualifying and was mostly losing early on the Challenger Tour as well. Drawing one of his inspirations, Federico Coria, in the opening round at Poznan sounded extremely tough, but Navone beat his experienced compatriot and went on to claim his maiden Challenger title that week.

As it turned out, that was only the beginning. The Argentinian was by far the best player on the Challenger circuit in the latter half of 2023, going on to pick up more titles in Santa Fe, Santa Cruz, Buenos Aires, and again in Santa Fe. It took until the last event of his season for someone to finally take him down in a championship match (Luciano Darderi in Lima). In the meantime, he also turned around his once painful head-to-head record with friend Francisco Comesana (0-6 to 4-6), who beat him in the aforementioned Challenger 50 finals he made back in 2022.

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Rio breakthrough, keeping that up in Europe

But of course that wasn’t enough to get Navone seeded at Slams yet. It took him until the Golden Swing of 2024 to break the Top 100 and while it was clear the opportunity would be there this year with him not defending much in the first half of the year, until Rio de Janeiro things weren’t going that smoothly. But the 23-year-old qualified for the main draw, defeated Coria again in the opening round and stopped a phenomenal run from Joao Fonseca to eventually finish runner-up and debut inside the Top 100 at World No. 60.

An abdominal injury kept him out of a few events after Rio, but he was soon good to go and just kept going after moving over for the European part of the clay season. Marrakech semifinal, Bucharest final, serving for the match against Rune in Madrid. Navone couldn’t stop winning and moving up the rankings, before locking up the Challenger 175 title in Cagliari to all but confirm his seeding for the upcoming French Open. In less than a year after getting that Poznan title, he rose from No. 240 in the ATP Rankings to No. 31.

Is there a chance for a Paris run?

Navone’s game improved so much over the past two years. From showing shades of ball-striking talent but spraying errors in 2022 to becoming an absolute expert in crafting clay-court rallies and using the geometry of the court to the fullest extent in 2023. Last season he pretty much started playing a game that could be compared to what Coria brings to the table, but with a lot more attacking arsenal and dynamic, aggressive shotmaking. Balancing it out doesn’t always come easy to him yet and he can struggle to choose the right tools for a given moment. But when on song, the 23-year-old is a breathtaking watch.

Let’s see if he can find that at Roland Garros with his first-round match against the returning Carreno Busta being rather mediocre. Navone dropped the opening set despite serving for it at 5-4, but went on to be far too solid for the Spaniard in the next three. Now he’s going to have to take on Geneva runner-up Tomas Machac (who handled the quick transition to Paris very well with an opening win over Nuno Borges) and looming for the Argentinian is a potential matchup with World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev in the third round. On clay, he wouldn’t be drawing dead against the 2021 US Open champion at all.

Main Photo Credit: Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union]

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