ATP Future Stars Series: Mariano Navone

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Inside the middle and lower-most third of the current ATP Top 100, one can find established names–longtime masters of the minutiae of Tour-level competition, with numerous receipts to show for it (the likes of Gael Monfils, Roberto Bautista Agut, Stan Wawrinka), alongside arguable also-rans who make up the numbers but possess insufficient quality to be seen within reasonable parameters as contenders for titles (among them Arthur Rinderknech, Daniel Elahi Galán, Rinky Hijikata) and those who have emerged as genuine challengers (with a small c) for titles, by reason of their abilities, as well as possessing the necessary nous to defeat an elite player, in the right circumstances. Into the latter category one can justifiably insert Mariano Navone, the 23-year-old Argentine.

The second half of 2023 represented Navone’s acme, with five clay Challenger titles out of a possible nine (a trophy for every six matches played), before losing his 100% finals record in Peru. That Lima loss (4–6, 6–3, 7–5) was to Argentine-born Italian Luciano Darderi, born a year later and possessing a playing style (as well as looks) not dissimilar to Navone’s. Indeed, those two have been engaging in direct conflict recently–six meetings in as many months, with head-to-head record not favoring either (3-3 at last count)–and it can be strongly asserted that Navone will emulate his new rival’s achievement of winning a first Tour-level title later in the year.

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Darderi did so at Córdoba in February–a tournament for which he had to qualify, as the world no. 136. His opponent in the final, fellow qualifier Facundo Bagnis, perhaps provides embodiment of the fissure in quality between the Challenger and ATP Tours; his 17 Challenger trophies (the most of all active male players) have yet to be joined on the mantelpiece by an ATP title, with both his Tour-level finals occurring in his thirties. Indeed, only two of the ten most successful men in Challenger tennis–in terms of titles won–have Tour-level honors to their name (Paolo Lorenzi and Carlos Berlocq, also in their thirties when they won them, in case you were wondering). Nonetheless, players with the nitid confidence and undeniable fluency of Navone–currently leading the Tour for percentage of return games won in 2024–seem duty-bound to transcend that crevice.

When asked about how well those Challengers prepared him for the tour, the 22-year-old’s response to ATPTour.com was revealing in its brevity: “The level is high in Challengers, many people outside the Top 100 win matches at the ATP level. The difference is small.”

With his run in Rio–the biggest of the clay season’s “hors d’oeuvre” competitions–backed up by another final berth in Bucharest (part of its “main course” in April/May) one can see the man who leapt some 82 places up the rankings in 11 weeks claiming a “dessert” clay title in July. It is worth pointing out that each of those 250 events has, in each of the last four years, crowned a new ATP champion: Miomir Kecmanović at Kitzbühel in 2020, Carlos Alcaraz at Umag in 2021, Francisco Cerúndolo at Båstad in 2022, and Pedro Cachín at Gstaad in 2023. Navone may well continue that trend this summer.

Main Photo Credit: Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union

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