There are Cinderella stories, and then there is Juan Manuel Cerundolo.
The 19-year-old qualifier from Argentina completed a dream week at the Cordoba Open, going from having never contested an ATP Tour main draw match to lifting his maiden trophy on home soil. He sealed the victory with a statement 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 victory over fifth seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the final and will rise to No. 181 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.
ATPTour.com caught up with Cerundolo after his victory to talk about his week in Cordoba and the path he has taken to his unforgettable ATP debut.
Congratulations on an incredible week. What does it mean to you to win your first ATP Tour title in your debut and do it in Argentina?
I honestly can’t believe it. It’s been an unforgettable experience, I will never forget this moment. I’m super happy and even more because it’s in Argentina, in my home with all my friends and family cheering me on. It was such a unique experience. I will never forget it.
Prior to this week, you’d never played an ATP main draw match before. At what point in the week did you start to believe you could win the title?
I honestly never thought that or imagined it. I think it happened step by step, little by little. I won my first match in qualifying, then the second. First my objective was to get through the qualies, then I wanted to win one round. Then I started to think about the match against [Miomir] Kecmanovic, then I beat him. I was just thinking match by match, I never in my life imagined that I could win the tournament. So maybe that was the key, because I never felt anxious.
From playing in the main draw with your older brother Francisco Cerundolo, to winning your first title – what moment stands out the most from this week?
Both of us playing together here was just incredible. And now I’m seeing the posts he’s been making about me [on social media] and what he thinks, it makes me so happy. He’s been a big point of reference for me, and it’s great that we can share these experiences because we can use it to help each other.
Your father Alejandro Cerundolo is a big name in Argentine tennis, your brother plays as well. How much of a role does family have in your career and what is it like to share these moments in Cordoba with them?
Family is so fundamental. Without a family to support you and help you, or friends to support and help you, it’s almost impossible to do it all alone. It’s so important, they’ve always supported me and cheered from the stands for me ever since I was small. These are the things that can’t really be explained, but I just thank them for always being present in my life and in my tennis career.
You entered this tournament at No. 335 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, and you’ll leave here ranked No. 181. How does a result like this change your career’s trajectory? Have you started to look ahead?
Honestly, I have been thinking about it a little bit. I will be able to compete in the main draws of [ATP Challenger Tour] tournaments and maybe play qualies at ATP tournaments and Grand Slams, which is what makes me the happiest.
Before this, I wasn’t even thinking of what ranking I would need or how many points, because the number wasn’t even close. I wasn’t even looking at the Top 100. Whenever I thought about my ranking [goals], I was aiming for Top 200 because I was just that far away. Now, I just have to keep playing and make the most of it.
On the court, tennis fans are getting to know your lefty forehand and counterpunching. How would you describe yourself on and off the court?
On the court I’m definitely a more defensive counter-puncher. I like to use the opponent’s pace against them, and when I can attack with the forehand I use it to dictate the points.
Off of the court, I think I’m a calm guy. I do have my attitude and my personality, I can be a little bit of a loner. My favourite things are playing Playstation and watching Netflix, I’m not the most ‘social’ guy. But it’s always great to relax with your friends and take a break from tennis, because it’s not good to always be on your own.
Who were your football or tennis idols growing up? Who are your favourite players to follow now?
I honestly love football, and even more because I play FIFA on Playstation. It’s definitely a vice for me! As far as idols, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the two current players that I like the most. And also Cristiano Ronaldo, his mentality and how much of a champion he is just drives me crazy.
This is a milestone moment in your career. How will you celebrate this victory?
All my friends are here right now, so I just want to go out for dinner with them… But on the other hand, I have to make sure I recover physically because I have to play again on Tuesday [in Buenos Aires]. So it’s celebrate, then recuperate.