Schwartzman Reigns In Rio

Argentine defeats Fernando Verdasco in straight sets to claim biggest title

Diego Schwartzman is the champion at the Rio Open presented by Claro, easing his way past Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-3 to claim the biggest title of his career and first ATP World Tour 500 crown. The 5’7” Argentine, who didn’t drop a set all tournament, will make his Top 20 debut in the ATP Rankings next week (No. 18).

Schwartzman got off to an inauspicious start, as he was broken in the opening game of the final by an aggressive Verdasco, whose signature forehand appeared to be firing on all cylinders. However, the Spaniard, who just yesterday claimed the doubles title with partner David Marrero, quickly dropped serve himself, allowing the Argentine back on level terms. 

As both players settled into the match, Schwartzman was able to counter Verdasco’s aggressive hitting with sublime clay-court counterpunching tennis and eventually sealing the first set 6-2.

The second set was a tighter affair with Verdasco generating five break points on Schwartzman’s wavering serve. Yet the dogged defense and pinpoint accuracy of the 25-year-old Schwartzman proved too much for the left-hander, who was unable to break serve despite his many opportunities. Showing few signs of nerves and steely determination in his final service game, Schwartzman sunk to his knees in celebration following a final Verdasco return error into the net after 83 minutes.

"I never thought before the week that I [was]going to be here with the trophy," said Schwartzman after the match. "It's an amazing week for me. Everything was perfect; every match, every set was perfect for me, playing my best tennis. I am really happy and trying to enjoy... [but] in a few hours I take a plane!

 "For me it was important today to put many balls on the court, trying to be focused... on every point," added the 25-year-old on his strategy in the final. "I think he was a little bit tired in the [end] of the second set and for me it was important because I was fresh."

For his win in Brazil, the Argentine claims 500 ATP Rankings points and pockets $365,560 in prize money. The title is just his second at the tour-level, following his maiden crown two years ago in Istanbul (d. Grigor Dimitrov). Schwartzman improved to 2-2 at ATP World Tour finals, having succumbed in 2016, 2017 Antwerp (l. to Gasquet, l. to Tsonga).

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Meanwhile, Verdasco falls to a 7-16 record in ATP World Tour finals, and remains in the hunt for his first title since 2016 as he continues his 2018 season. The Spaniard celebrated big wins in Rio, including an emphatic victory against two-time defending champion Dominic Thiem and former finalist Fabio Fognini.

"[Schwartzman] was much closer, in the direction changes, hitting close to the line," reflected Verdasco. "When I served well, he would recover and play better than me.  His legs were more fresh than mine and in the end, he deserved the victory more than me."

Next up for Schwartzman is the Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC, where his first-round opponent will be a familiar one: He and Verdasco are slated for a rematch next week in Acapulco, Mexico.