Editor’s note: This story was translated from ATPTour.com/es
The conditions, the climate, the number of Argentinians supporting him in every match of the tournament, the relaxation brought by the city’s beaches, the memories of happiness when he first discovered Crandon Park as a child… There are many reasons for Francisco Cerundolo’s extraordinary success competing at the Miami Open presented by Itau, where one year ago he was a semi-finalist on his ATP Masters 1000 debut and now is in the quarter-finals.
But there is another factor that is just as important: superstition.
“Since last year, at this tournament, we’ve had several superstitions. And they must be respected,” explained Cerundolo’s Argentine coach Kevin Konfederak. “One of the superstitions is returning to the restaurant where we eat and having the same meal. And everyone knows what they have to order. But I can’t say any more because I don’t want to jinx it.”
There are even some superstitions that do not directly involve Cerundolo, but some friends that have been with him since the start of the tournament. They are responsible for bringing luck simply by sitting in the box while the 24-year-old is playing.
“They are lucky charms, of course. They also came last year, and they are staying. You don’t change things like that,” Konfederak said.
Photo Credit: ATP Tour
Konfederak also has his own role to play, besides that of coach. His superstition, just like that of Mariano Gaute, the team’s fitness coach and kinesiologist, takes place in the hotel gym after every Cerundolo win. They have to do 15-second exercises with a 10-second pause between each one. So far there are eight exercises, but a new one is added for each new session. It is obligatory.
In fact, when Cerundolo beat Lorenzo Sonego at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday to stamp his passage to his second Miami quarter-final, Konfederak and Gaute did their gym session when they got back to the hotel despite the time.
“We were dead by the end of it, really struggling. But, since we ask ‘Fran’ to suffer and fight on court, the least we can do is to suffer ourselves, albeit in the gym. It’s all part of the superstition,” said the 31-year-old coach.
It is a team job, there is no doubt about that. While his entourage invoke good luck, ‘Fran’ channels it on court. So far, it has worked like a charm, especially in Miami. One year ago, as a result of reaching the semi-finals in his first Masters 1000, the 24-year-old right-hander climbed from No. 103 to No. 51 in the world.
“It was the tournament that put me on the radar,” remembers Cerundolo.
“It changed my career, changed my life. Tons of people started to follow me on social media, I had thousands of messages everywhere and I wasn’t used to it. My phone was shutting down because of the sheer number of notifications I was getting.
Even more commendable is that he is just one win away from a repeat of last year’s campaign, and producing some stunning tennis that has allowed him to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in the third round to claim his third Top 10 win. Another of the keys to his latest long campaign in Miami is his emotional equilibrium on court.
“Over a year ago we decided that, because of his personality, there was no point bottling things up,” explains Konfederak. “Keeping your mouth shut restrains you and generates more tension, it’s no help. So most of my work consists of insisting that he unload, but then immediately concentrates on the next point. Now he’s used to playing and being expressive.”
Konfederak, who was in the Top 500 in 2012 before dedicating his time to his studies, contributes to every aspect of Cerundolo’s learnings. He tries to instil in his understudy all the knowledge he acquired during his time at the Georgia Gwinnett College, where he gained a degree in business and marketing, as well as that obtained through his personal reading, whether it be on tennis, academics or life in general.
“I get a lot of information through what I read and listen to. And I test out what will be of use to ‘Fran’. It’s trial and error. There are some things he takes on, others he doesn’t,” he said.
‘The science of storytelling’, his current book, is about how personalities are determined through the stories we tell others and ourselves. So far, he can see his pupil in the synopsis.
“The story he’s telling through his tennis is a very good one!” he declared proudly.
He hopes that Cerundolo’s tennis continues to speak for itself on Thursday when he crosses paths with Karen Khachanov, who leads their ATP Head2Head series 1-0, having beaten him last year in Montreal.
“Khachanov is a very complete player. He’s playing very well,” Cerundolo said. “He beat me last year in a real tussle. I’m going to focus on my game. And if I carry on the way I’ve been playing, I’m confident.”
If he can maintain the level he has produced all tournament, Konfederak and Gaute will leave Miami fitter than ever after so many sessions in the gym. It will have been well worth it.