Andres Dellatorre: Juan Manuel Cerundolo’s Alternate Approach | ATP Tour

This Tuesday saw Juan Manuel Cerundolo become the first South American player to compete in the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, having overcome more hurdles than most of his peers to be there.

The Argentine’s route to Milan was somewhat different from that of his opponents this week. He did not set foot on a hard court all year and was exiled thousands of miles from home, but his mind was always resolutely focused on one goal; to be among the year’s eight best players.

The progress of the Buenos Aires native, just 19, has been overseen by the watchful eye of Andres Dellatorre, an ex-professional player, who knows the intricacies of the Tour like the back of his hand. After five years together, few people are more familiar with the career of ‘La Compu’ [The Computer], the nickname bestowed upon the #NextGenATP player due to his lighting decision-making on court.

After his pupil’s opener at the Allianz Cloud in Milan, where he received a warm welcome from the fans, Dellatorre spoke to about Cerundolo.

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Being in Milan means you form part of a very small group. What is the significance of this tournament?
This is a very important tournament. We started the year with totally different goals, not thinking about being at this tournament. As the year progressed, we became more motivated about it and our desire to be here grew. I always say to Juanma that he earned his place here among the top eight, and I remind him who he competed with directly or indirectly this season. I showed him that they’re all very good players. Those that are here are tremendous players and I can see that tennis will be able to enjoy them for many years to come, luckily.

Were you surprised to qualify?
Yes. At the start of the season, when he won on the ATP Tour in February, we thought it was a possibility. But also, when he won in Cordoba a lot of people said to us ‘you’re already in’. Thinking we’d be a part of the [Intesa Sanpaolo] Next Gen [ATP Finals] started to change as the year progressed. And it’s not just that they were telling us we were in, he actually still had to do much more to qualify. With the ATP title that he won, which was really great, he had to win three or four more tournaments and reach several finals at really tough ATP Challenger [Tour] events. All of the people here did the same. It was very difficult.

How do you assimilate winning the first ATP Tour event you entered?
In a way, experiencing a moment like that can end up being counterproductive. If you don’t put it properly into perspective, you get distracted and you think you’ve already taken a big step. It’s a situation that you have to know how to handle as well as possible when it happens to you. It had a huge impact and he had to adjust very quickly. Luckily, he had his great tournament in Cordoba and was able to win a few Challengers later and reach several finals. That was affirming for us in a way.

You’ve said that hard courts do not suit his game. You got here by playing on clay all year. How are you going to make that change, with hard court being the dominant surface?
This year we’ll be looking at the Australian Open and his preseason will be almost all on cement. The Tour will get him used to it automatically. We took that route and the decision to play on clay in order to get him into the Top 100, because I think it was better for him. And we had to take decisions like not going to the US Open” title=”” href=”” rel=”noopener noreferrer” target=”_blank” tabindex=”-1″ style=”color: #6264a7; background-color: #ffffff;”>US Open in order to obtain points and to get to this point of the year, in order to play at the [Intesa Sanpaolo] Next Gen [ATP Finals]. IT got him into the top 100, which was one of the goals.

There’s no rush to learn [how to play on] hard courts at 19 anyway. In South America, the players start to develop on cement at 19 or 20. Next year he will get used to it on his own and we’ll be playing on cement more. The Tour means we have to do it and we’ll also be able to train. This year we couldn’t go to tournaments without having trained well on the surface. I think the Tour gets you in shape, you have to work hard and shape your game in order to pick things up and keep growing.

People always say how intelligent he is. He important will that be in this period?

Being sharp will always help. Knowing how to play, being intelligent and using your head tend to open doors. It’ll help him on every surface. But he doesn’t just have to understand the game with his mind, he needs to use his shotmaking too. He will have to develop things that we are still working on: his serve, being stronger on the return, and other things that I think he is improving on with time. It’s a question of getting your head down and working on it.

It’s the first time a South American has played this tournament. How difficult was it to make that breakthrough?
It was very difficult. It isn’t surprising with the distance. Also because there are no hard courts in practically any clubs in Argentina. You start playing on cement when you have no choice but to do so. Nobody starts playing on cement first apart from the odd person in Argentina. Generally everything happens on clay there. Then, you have a 25-hour journey from Buenos Aires to, I don’t know, a village in Prague or anywhere else in Europe. Sometimes that makes everything a little more difficult. They’re not excuses.

I see the European players who have very long careers, careers are longer here. South Americans tend to have short careers. It makes sense. Having to cross the pond all the time isn’t so easy. Now, telephones and social media, and that contact that wasn’t there before help a lot. But it still takes a big toll. Having to get on a plane, come over, be here for at least six weeks and knowing that you won’t return in between. A European has that advantage; if you lose, you go home and come back. There’s nothing new there, but it also makes you a bit stronger when you have to dig deep and give your all. There are pros and cons to it.

It’s something you already know at the start of the journey. Does it require a special person?
No doubt. It’s the fifth time we’ve come to Europe this year. That’s enough of an upheaval to mean you are mentally frazzled at this point of the year.

Does it make you lose matches?
I don’t know if it makes you lose matches, but the first weeks are always very hard. There’s a period of adaptation, jetlag to fight against. The tiredness from flying, the time difference, you feel that. In the first few weeks, it can make a difference. It can count against you. But you toughen up after years on tour, when you’re not as young it’s something you deal with better.

How do the young players handle the social media following some of them are starting to attract?
They feel it. Argentinians really like sport, they watch everything. Tennis is a sport that has always been big in Argentina. It has been and continues to be very popular. Juanma has his social media and he notices, he loves being a verified user, he likes getting more followers… They are aware of the following they have and they have to live with that pressure. They see that people are excited about South American tennis again.

You also have to take into account that there haven’t been many others in recent years. They’re growing and that’s something else they have to handle. It’s not just serving well or hitting the ball well, it’s about knowing how to handle that aspect too. You have to be aware of everything that comes with being a good tennis player and know how to handle it.

In a very emotional year, what is the advice you’ve given him most frequently?
To stay calm. Apart from tennis things, I tend to tell him that we have to keep doing our own thing, that he should keep his things in order, while becoming increasingly professional. Ultimately, the focus should be on continuing to train and improve. That’s the only thing that will make you win. A brand of clothing won’t give you more wins, it won’t make you earn more money. The good thing about tennis is that you have to come back and defend what you already have. The calmer and more relaxed you are, the better you will do. I ask him to keep listening to the coaches, to keep listening to his fitness coach, the support of his team. That’s what you have to remember every day.

Now that more people are going to start watching him, how would you define him as a person?
He’s very controlled. He’s a very professional kid, he knows what he wants. I really think he has the desire to be a very good tennis player. That’s important. Maybe there are people that win one or two matches, or a tournament and they settle for that. When I see him, I see a desire to progress and keep improving. It’s very nice. We’ve been travelling together now for about five years and we have a very relaxed relationship. More than just your normal rapport between a player and coach, everything is always very fun. The way you see him on court, that’s what he’s like off court. On court, he is a player that will always respect his opponent. Lots of people will have the opportunity to see that in Milan.

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