Combining discipline in his studies with fire and inspiration on court
Get used to the name Cerúndolo in profesional tennis! In 2021, Juan Manuel Cerúndolo won the ATP title in Córdoba and qualified for the NextGen Finals in Milan, but he has now been overtaken by his elder brother Fransisco, the shock revelation of the Miami Open 2022.
Francisco was always likely to be a success in tennis. His parents, María Luz Rodríguez and Alejandro “Toto” Cerúndolo, were professional tennis players. María shared her sports career with her university career, and graduated as a psychologist. Toto belonged to a generation of Argentinian players who grew up with Guillermo Vilas as an unattainable role model; Toto almost broke the top 300 in 1982 and, over the years, became a passionate coach of numerous players at different times.
The couple had three children, of whom the first and third are tennis players. Sandwiched between them is their sister María Constanza, who plays for Argentina’s national team in field hockey and won gold at the 2018 Youth Olympics.
Francisco was born in August 1998. Unlike his younger brother, he didn’t stand out as a junior tennis player, treading a more leisurely path to the tour. This was partly because of other motivations that not every player determined to reach the top on the tennis circuit finds time for, in Francisco’s case studying. As well as growing up in a family with a culture of academic effort alongside sporting talent, he went to one of Argentina’s schools with a dual morning and afternoon shift, a very demanding system that athletes in top training seldom follow. After his school days, he took up a place at the University of South Carolina in the USA, but after six months he decided to return to Argentina to dedicate more time to tennis and continue studying in Buenos Aires.
His evolution in tennis was slow, but exploded in March 2021, a few days after his brother won the ATP tour title in Córdoba. By then 137th in the world, Francisco reached the final in Buenos Aires, where he lost to Diego Schwartzman, narrowly missing out on being the first qualifier in the history of the tournament to win the title.
That defeat, indeed the whole experience, helped Francisco to mature, and while he went through moments of uncertainty, it prepared him for the next surge in his career. That came in February 2022 when he again did well in Buenos Aires, reaching the quarter-finals as a qualifier, losing for the second year running to Schwartzman. That run meant that for two weeks both Cerúndolo brothers were in the world’s top 100. Runs to the semi-finals in Rio and Miami meant that by mid-April Francisco had broken the top 50.
Polite and cordial with the public and with his rivals, Francisco nonetheless has fire in his shots, especially on the forehand. Raised on clay courts, but with a knack for adapting to hard surfaces, he plays in the idiom of today’s hard-hitters, but he throws in some exquisite drop shots, learned on the courts of Buenos Aires.
Francisco Cerúndolo has been using HEAD rackets since he was 10 years old. Indeed, the tennis academy run by his father, Alejandro, has been supported by HEAD for almost three decades, thereby cementing Francisco’s (and also Juan Manuel’s) family bond with the company. Initially, Francisco played with the HEAD EXTREME model, but his current power emanates from the PRESTIGE racket with an 18/20 string pattern.
“As a boy my idol was David Nalbandian,” says Francisco. “I always looked at him and loved the way he played.” A fan of the River Plate soccer team, a lover of chess and the movie Gladiator, Francisco is disciplined and committed to his tennis training. But that does not prevent him from continuing with his studies, an activity that comes easily to him (he is working online towards a bachelor’s degree in management with economics and finance). His biggest dream is to win Roland Garros, but for now, he is happy as the right-hander of the Cerúndolo brothers, the older and higher-ranked of the two, and a great inspiration for young people struggling to progress in the elite with both sport and their studies.
WORDS BY Sebastián Torok