Sebstain Baez has become the ATP Challenger Tour king this season, capturing five titles at this level in 2021.
The Argentine is currently at a career-high No. 111 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and is one of two South Americans, alongside Juan Manuel Cerundolo, competing at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan this week.
Ahead of making his debut at the 21-and-under event, Baez spoke to ATPTour.com.
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A lot of the #NextGenATP players have been doing amazing things this year. How much does it motivate you, seeing other young players doing well? Is there anyone in particular who has really impressed you?
Qualifying is a good sign. At the same time, I can’t slow down. It’s not like I’ve arrived and this is the top, there is another level. I think all the players who got here understood that. We are the same age, we all crossed paths at junior tournaments and always wanted more. There are even players in this tournament that are already in the Top 50. It’s a good tournament, not just to test yourself, but also to try and compete and feel that we’re all close again. There is still more. I can use it more as motivation, and not so much about winning or losing, or my career depending on this tournament. If I do well, it doesn’t guarantee anything for me either. The most important thing is to keep improving and making the most of it.
When you were growing up there were Roger, Rafa and Novak, who created great rivalries. As you’re competing with other #NextGenATP players, have you thought about your budding rivalries and playing against them for many years?
It would be wonderful to have great rivalries. Roger, Nadal and Novak are three legends and I doubt we’ll see that in tennis again. Three guys with 20 Grand Slams each… I don’t think that’ll ever happen again. But who knows if I might have a great rivalry with one of the players here when, hopefully, we are higher up. I shared a lot of my junior tennis with six of the eight players here. We all motivate each other. When one progresses, the other says, ‘why can’t I do the same?’ That rivalry makes you hungrier every day.
Have you watched the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals before and if so what were your thoughts?
I always thought it was an interesting tournament, more than anything because it’s not played with tramlines. It’s also good that the best eight young players are playing. I really was surprised by the level at this tennis tournament. It was new players on their way up. There are a few that are so good that they don’t play in it. It’s a great opportunity to come and compete head to head. I can be here, share and be in the same place. The conditions are a leveller and whoever is hungriest on the day will take the match.
The Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals always includes many innovations. Were there any that you particularly enjoyed and look forward to using and if so, why?
I would say the coaching. I think it would make the sport more comfortable. I think it’s impossible for your coach not to try and tell you something when you’re playing. It’s natural. He’ll want to slow you down, maybe not say anything very tactical. Often at tournaments, when they don’t understand your language, when they say something a bit long, which may well just be encouragement, it comes across as something tactical. That’s not good. It means you can’t say anything at all and it creates unnecessary tension on court. That’s the rule I like best in Milan. Ultimately, any coach and player can say something to each other on court.
When you think of Italy, what do you think of?
First, I think of the food, which is amazing. The wallpaper on my phone is Diego Maradona, who was a Napoli legend. Whenever I think of Italy, I remember good and beautiful things. It’s a country I feel comfortable in, I like the language and I would love to learn it. It’s a language that’s very canchero [cool], as we say [in Argentina]. I really enjoy Italy and I also saw some of Rome. I really liked it a lot.
Have you ever been sight-seeing in Italy and if so, what was your favourite place to visit?
A while ago I was able to visit some places with my coach, Sub Gutiérrez. He knows Italy well. He really likes it and he’s an experienced traveler. He’s shown me around, told me stories. ‘This is so and so, that’s something else…’ We didn’t have time, but we went to some places. ‘This is where so and so happened…’ It’s really wonderful and I’m learning from a person who knows about the history of the place because he likes it, because of films, his knowledge and everything. Finding out about the history of all the places you go to is really interesting.
What’s your favourite Italian food?
My favourite dishes are pasta and pizza. But what I’ve really noticed is that any establishment you go to in Italy, whether it’s good or bad, whether they have one customer or 100, the food will be good. More than anything with pasta. It’s something that really surprised me and that I really admire about the Italians.