On Sunday, Sebastian Baez claimed a slice of history for his native Argentina. At the age of 20 years and one month, the Buenos Aires native became the youngest Argentine titlist on the ATP Challenger since 2010.
Nearly 11 years had passed since the South American nation featured a Challenger champion as young as Baez, but that would all change on the clay of Concepcion, Chile. In what was a war of attrition, he outlasted countryman Francisco Cerundolo 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-6(5), to lift the trophy after a marathon two hours and 40 minutes at the Dove Men+Care Challenger Concepcion.
Baez became the youngest winner from Argentina on the ATP Challenger Tour since a 19-year-old Federico Delbonis in Rome 2010. A former junior No. 1 and 2018 Roland Garros boys’ finalist, he has fought for this moment ever since turning pro two years ago. Having competed primarily on the ITF circuit, Baez was appearing in just his seventh Challenger-level tournament in Concepcion. But he would put it all together in a flash, stunning four straight Top 150 opponents for the title.
Straight-set victories over fifth seed Daniel Elahi Galan, fourth seed Hugo Dellien, second seed Andrej Martin, and a deciding-set triumph over a red-hot Cerundolo completed a dream week for the budding #NextGenATP star. Not only did Cerundolo enter the final having won 22 of his last 24 matches, but he was going for his fourth title in just five months.
Baez was not intimidated. He saved 15 of 19 break points faced to upset his countryman and take home the trophy. The Argentine will rise 58 spots to a career-high No. 254 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, cracking the Top 300 for the first time. In addition, he is up to eighth in the ATP Race To Milan, as he begins his quest to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals in November.
Baez spoke to ATPTour.com following the victory…
Congrats Seba. How does it feel to win your first Challenger title?
It makes me very happy. I know that I worked very hard with my team for these tournaments, to achieve these goals and objectives. I believe that the road is very long and you need a big boost and a great motivation to continue achieving your goals. I am working with the best people that I can be nowadays and, for that reason, this trophy is also for them. It is an achievement that I share with my entire team, as they are the people that are most important in my career and support me every day.
It was your first final. Were you nervous, especially against another player from Argentina?
It is always difficult to play against someone you know, especially from your country. We know each other for many years. It also makes you feel more nervous to play matches like this in the final rounds. We know the opponent’s weaknesses and strengths. There were nerves, even more being in my first Challenger final, but I was able to overcome them and take the trophy in the end.
What was the key this week? You beat some really good players along the way.
Yes, that same thing happened to me last year in the South American Challenger swing, where I faced very tough players. But I could not believe in myself in those moments. It was different this week. I was more focused and ready. That is also part of the work that I do every day with my coach and my team.
This was your first tournament of 2021. What was your approach and your mindset?
My focus and mentality was to approach it like any tournament. I arrived without expectations. I came to do the best job I could. Whoever I face on the court, I treat them all the same. Just keep doing what I have been training for, without putting objectives and pressure on myself all the time. That is the path and I hope to continue following it.
You had so much success as a junior. How difficult is it to go from juniors to Challengers?
A tennis career is always very complicated, above all to go from juniors to the professional level. There are many players with a lot of junior experience and many years, that have had success on the pro circuit. For us, the change in level can often surprise the younger players. Here we play very different matches at the junior stage and you play with men of a different mentality. That is what makes you stronger and forces you to improve day-by-day.
2021 #NextGenATP Challenger Winners
|Brandon Nakashima (USA)||19 years, 6 months||Quimper II|
|Sebastian Baez (ARG)||20 years, 1 month||Concepcion|
|Jenson Brooksby (USA)||20 years, 3 months||Potchefstroom II|
|Sebastian Korda (USA)||20 years, 6 months||Quimper I|
After all the hard work, how can a week like this build your confidence and help you going forward?
I believe that a good week is the result of good training, of the work you have put in already. The objectives that you are achieving is thanks to all the effort that came in the past. There are many things that can be achieved, but nothing without work, focus and effort every day. That is the way.
You play with a lot of energy and show your personality on the court. Where does that come from?
That is something that came from working with my coach, maybe because I have to compensate for some physical capabilities [at 5’7″]. I play with a style that comes from training hard for a long time, and I show it in the matches. I believe that it is the result of all the training sessions. I’m just getting started.
Talk about your experience in Concepcion. How nice is it to be able to compete so close to home?
I did not know Concepcion before this week. It is a very beautiful city that I like a lot and it is a shame that I couldn’t explore more. But that they can have this type of tournament in this situation is something that is incredible. Also, we don’t have as many opportunities in South America as the rest of the world, so I want to thank the people running this event for this. I appreciate the opportunity and this is what we needed most.
You are inside the Top 300 with this title. How high can you climb in 2021?
I don’t know. I hope that it will be a surprise. All I am achieving is thanks to effort and hard work, and the results will come from this dedication.
For those of us that don’t know you, tell us something. What do you enjoy doing off the court?
I like to enjoy my time with people that I love. I listen to music, play PlayStation and read. I am a relaxed person.