© Sergio Llamera/Argentina Open

Qualifier Francisco Cerundolo reaches his first ATP Tour final on home soil at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires.

Francisco Cerundolo: ‘Seeing My Brother Win Was Very Motivating’

Spurred on by his brother’s breakthrough in Cordoba, the elder Cerundolo is now forging his own destiny

A week ago at the Cordoba Open, the youngest member of the Cerundolo household, Juan Manuel Cerundolo, lifted his first ATP Tour trophy. A few days later at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires his older brother Francisco Cerundolo could follow in his footsteps with a win against Diego Schwartzman on Sunday.

But before analysing the brothers' recent success, let’s turn the clock back one year.

Francisco had to endure lockdown at home with his family in Buenos Aires. The tour was on a break and without a concrete idea of what might happen in the future. The struggle meant that the 22-year-old was only able to do fitness training and he would eventually injure himself, battling a bad wrist and tendonitis in his leg.

In August, he decided to travel to Europe with his brother Juan Manuel and Tomas Etcheverry, despite having only been able to hit balls against a wall and with just a few training sessions under his belt. 

“We didn’t know what else to do. We travelled to Italy with my brother and we quarantined in Arezzo before we started competing,” Francisco said. “The journey was tough, we were uncertain and nervous. After a few months of touring, we were more relaxed.”

Those first few weeks were by no means easy, lacking confidence and rhythm. Then something started to change within him.

All the suffering and his hard work would finally start to pay dividends. A first ATP Challenger Tour semi-final in Sibiu, Romania was the first step before he won 17 of his last 19 ATP Challenger Tour matches in 2020, winning titles in Split, Guayaquil and Campinas.

In fact, since returning to the tour, the elder of the Cerundolo brothers has climbed over one hundred positions to reach the verge of the ATP Tour’s Top 100. “My mental capacity and my maturity really grew in a year and a half,” Cerundolo explained to ATPTour.com. “It’s important to be well in every aspect, but above all in order to believe in yourself and know that you can do it.”

Is there a particular explanation for the best week of his career? “It’s tremendous what I’m going through… I already had the game a few months ago, I think, but because of the ranking I had to reach a certain level.

“I think that since October I’ve been making better use of my game and it was pretty amazing to reach the final nearly every week. I just had to be able to translate that to the ATP tournaments,” explained Francisco, who after an agreement between the University of Palermo and the ATP, also started his Management Degree with Economics and Finance in the final quarter of 2020. He has now taken and passed five courses.

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Last week in Cordoba, he contested the first ATP Tour event in which his brother, three years the younger, was also competing, making them the first Argentine brothers in 40 years to appear in the same tournament. 

“The reality is that Juanma and I had never had the chance to measure up to one another in ATP tennis before, but this isn’t something that happened from one day to the next. We’ve been waiting for our time for a while and along with Juanma we’ve been working for many years to reach this level. Seeing him win was very motivating.

“Last week I realised my game was there, and it was already good… Now I have to play in the qualifiers and the standard is similar. The key was my mind, because the tennis was getting there as I won each match,” he said, repeating the word ‘mind’. And if there is one thing that characterises the Cerundolo brothers, it’s just that: the determination with which they approach things, each with his own style and timing.

What’s their relationship like? It couldn’t be better, according to the older brother. “We talk every day. We are happy when we’re doing well and it’s a great bond. We each help the other with experiences, now I’ll see what he says to me,” he laughed. Juan Manuel, meanwhile, awaits him in Santiago, where he will join him in a tournament for the third week on the trot at the Chile Dove Men+Care Open.

Sunday will provide Francisco with the biggest challenge of his career: playing in the final of a tournament that he has been coming to watch for as long as he can remember, where he has played in tournaments at all levels and with his family and friends cheering him on. 

How To Watch

“This is a dream I’ve had all my life,” he said. “It’s a good yardstick to see where I am, how I get on in an ATP Tour final… But I’m not going to rest on my laurels, and being able to give myself this opportunity has made me happy.”

Parents Alejandro and Maria Luz are always the first to congratulate both the brothers. They were in Cordoba all week and are also now in Buenos Aires. “It’s wonderful to see what’s happening. Watching Fran play is quite difficult for me,” his father said, laughing. “If you’re a spectator, he will guarantee you a show because his shots are tremendous and he hits so hard that anything can happen in his matches.”

“Conversation at home is all about sport and we can’t wait for the three of them [their sister, Coni, plays field hockey for Argentina] to get back and see what they all think about their achievements,” jokes their mother Maria Luz, a psychologist. “We’re going to have fun with Fran and Juanma arguing about who won the most games against an opponent.” 

The road to the top is just starting for the Cerundolos, but the current situation couldn’t be any better: Juan Manuel has already made history, and Francisco continues to read from a dream script in a series that is still in its first season.

Did You Know… The Cerundolos are the first brothers to reach back-to-back finals on the ATP Tour since 2017, when Alexander Zverev won the title in Rome and Mischa Zverev reached the final in Geneva. If Francisco is successful tomorrow, they will become the first brothers in the Open Era to claim consecutive titles, and seventh pair overall.