Cabal/Farah Reflect On Rome: 'The Tournament That Opened Our Eyes'
Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah arrived at the 2018 Internazionali BNL d’Italia with a score they had been waiting to settle for a long time. They had 10 ATP Tour titles under their belt, but hadn’t won an ATP Masters 1000 tournament. Both players believed they were capable of winning bigger events.
"We had important moments at those events, but we came up short of winning," Cabal told ATPTour.com.
Four months before playing in Rome, they fell in the Australian Open final (l. to Marach/Pavic). But if recent results were anything to go by, ending their big tournament drought in Rome seemed unlikely. They reached the quarter-finals in 2015, but lost their opening match in 2014 and 2016, and didn’t play in 2017. It was difficult to predict that the Colombian Power, as the duo is known, would be victorious that week in the Foro Italico, at least for those who were unaware of their love for competing there.
"We love Rome,” Farah explained. "We like going out and exploring the streets, slipping down an unknown alley, discovering hidden and unknown restaurants. We like walking and eating great food. We also play very well there. It suits us because we come into it in form at that point of the clay swing and Sebas and I are good on clay.”
"Rome is special for us," Cabal added. "Even though we lost in the first round in the early years, we always played well there. Everything was in place for that to be the case. We love Italy. It's one of our favourite countries. Rome has a unique atmosphere and the venue is special, the courts are spectacular and they are always full. That makes it even more special.”
Their feelings for the city helped them win their first big title together in 2018 Rome, when they took out top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in the quarter-finals and then defeated Pablo Carreno Busta and Joao Sousa in the final. Cabal broke into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings and Farah moved into the Top 15.
But the most important thing that came with the triumph was not their rankings rise. Farah reflected on that week as “the tournament that opened their eyes” and helped them understand their limitless potential.
"Rome is where everything exploded,” Cabal said. “Winning there was like getting the monkey off our back because we'd been coming up short in those types of tournaments. We had already won ATP 250 and ATP 500 titles. We thought that we were ready to win any tournament. But it wasn't easy. And when we freed ourselves from that burden, we thought, 'Now we need a Grand Slam.’”
To achieve their new goal, they needed a little more than a year. But they initially faced a variety of setbacks and posted a 10-6 record in the first quarter of 2019. Cabal also picked up a back injury at 2019 Monte Carlo and they only managed to win the title in Barcelona the following week because they started on Wednesday and he had enough time to recover.
At their next event in Madrid, Farah suffered a neck injury that did not improve before their opening match. They wouldn’t regain their confidence until returning to Rome to defend their title, when they produced a stunning performance that included an epic quarter-final win over Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan. Cabal played what he still refers to as one of the best points of his life during the clash.
"That was the most difficult match we played in Rome,” Farah said. "We saved match points, and we were down 2/7 in the Match Tie-break.“
The Colombians won again in Rome after producing a stunning display in the final against Raven Klassen and Michael Venus. It was their ninth consecutive victory at the tournament.
"We played unbelievably… We were unstoppable,” Farah recalled.
It is not only because of those two titles that Rome has become unforgettable for the Colombians. They have also had some surreal moments while playing there.
“In 2018, my racquet broke into two pieces when returning against Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares. A cat ran onto the court against Kubot and Melo, and Sebas hit me with the ball in our first round against Jurgen Melzer and Robin Haase,” Farah said. ”Last year, I brought my dog Taco, a miniature Australian sheep dog who was four or five months old, on court to celebrate.”
The pair have not slowed down since then. They earned their first two Grand Slam titles last year at Wimbledon and the US Open en route to clinching the year-end No. 1 spot for the first time.