Cerundolo: 'I Have Always Wanted To Play Rafa'
It is an expression that has been locked across the Argentine’s face since Friday, when he discovered that Spaniard Rafael Nadal would be his first-round opponent at The All England Lawn Tennis Club.
“I was happy and surprised when I saw the draw,” Cerundolo told ATPTour.com. “The day before, I told my coach I wanted to play Rafa or Novak [Djokovic] in this tournament. They are two of the greatest players in history. They are fairly old now and I don’t know how long they will be playing, so it is a good opportunity for me.
“I have always wanted to play Rafa, Novak and Roger [Federer]. So when I saw [I was drawn] against Rafa, I said to my coach ‘Let’s go!’. When I saw Nadal, I was happy.”
While the opportunity to play two-time champion Nadal will provide a memorable experience for Cerundolo, it also gives him the chance to show fans what he is capable of. The 24-year-old is currently at a career-high No. 41 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, having enjoyed a breakthrough season, which has seen him earn a career-best 12 tour-level wins.
The Argentine believes that although the task at hand is big, he can cause the 22-time Grand Slam titlist problems if he brings his best level.
“It is a good opportunity. I am probably going to play on Centre Court. This is my first Wimbledon so this is a great experience,” Cerundolo said. “It will be really nice to play against one of the greats and see how my level is.
“You enter the match trying to enjoy the moment. But I am a player who wants to do my best and I am going to play obviously trying to beat him. It is an individual sport, so you need to have the mentality that you are better than him. I will want to play my best and then we will see.”
Cerundolo is excited to grace the lawns at Wimbledon. Last year he lost in the final round of qualifying, but his strong results since ensured he would not need to negotiate that tricky path this year.
“It feels amazing to be here at Wimbledon. It is one of the most prestigious tournaments,” Cerundolo said. “Last year was my first year playing on grass and it was here, playing in qualifying. I won two matches, which surprised me as I had never played on grass before. I lost in the third round of qualifying and I was sad as I nearly made it, but I left with good feelings about grass.”
Cerundolo’s good feeling has transitioned to his performance on the surface this season, with the Argentine earning a win at The Queen’s Club, before he produced a strong display against Tommy Paul in Eastbourne, where he pushed the American to a deciding set.
Although the 24-year-old’s recent grass-court experience will be valuable against Nadal, his recent success in Miami might be even more beneficial. In April, the 24-year-old soared to the semi-finals on his ATP Masters 1000 debut, defeating seeds Reilly Opelka, Gael Monfils, Frances Tiafoe and Jannik Sinner along the way.
“I think my experience in Miami was really important. I played in big stadiums with Top 10 and Top 20 guys. It gave me a lot of experience and confidence that I can play at that level and beat those guys,” Cerundolo said. “I won’t be shy or nervous about the occasion or the stadium. Miami [helped me grow] as a player and as a person and I will use that experience against Rafa and moving forward.”
Cerundolo’s hard-court joy can be linked back to his college days. The Argentine regularly competed on hard courts alongside his studies at the University of South Carolina, where he studied Economics in 2018.
The 24-year-old, who enjoys watching football team River Plate play, decided to leave the university after a semester and try his luck on the ATP Tour. However, he still studies today, having taken up an online degree in management, economics and finance at the University of Palermo, which has a partnership with the ATP.
“Studying is great. It gets my mind away from tennis for an hour a day, it is great,” Cerundolo said. “If you can do one hour a day, it is fantastic. It helps me to switch off from tennis and takes away some pressure. It helps me relax and the next day when I am playing I feel I have more energy.”
However, the books will have to wait for now, with Cerundolo’s full attention on his first-round match against second seed Nadal. If the Argentine can channel his Miami form onto the grass at Wimbledon, then maybe, just maybe, he can spring one of the biggest surprises in the tournament’s 145-year history.