Argentine tennis player Sebastian Baez (21 years old, 59th in the world ranking) achieved a very outstanding victory, the one with the greatest impact of his career. For the round of 16 Estoril ATP 250Portugal (on brick dust, with 597,900 euros in prize money), defeated a Grand Slam and Davis Cup champion like croatian Marin Cilic (23°) by 1-6, 6-1 and 6-4, in one hour and 50 minutes.
After beating a local benchmark like the Portuguese Joao Sousa 6-1 and 6-3 in the first round, Báez started the challenge against Cilic very nervous, 3rd in the world in 2018 and winner of 20 titles, including the US Open 2014. The player born in Billinghurst, from San Martín, suffered against one of the biggest punchers on the circuit, he was suffocated and lost the first set against the Balkan 6-1, in just 22 minutes, achieving nothing more than 40% of points with his first serve and giving up his serve twice.
However, very far from demoralizedthe player trained by Sebastián Gutiérrez faced the second set with greater determination and lucidity. He was much more patient and strategic. He vastly improved serving records (he won 80% of points on the first serve and 82% on the second) and capitalized on Cilic’s rush and unforced errors to take the set, 6-1.
The third set was extremely close and emotional. The 1.98-meter European tennis player with a powerful forehand lifted three break points from Báez (right-handed, 1.70m) in the third game and breathed a sigh of relief (2-1). They reached the ninth game with the score 4-4 and, with insistence and extraordinary attitude, Báez broke Cilic’s serve on the third chance he had to go ahead 5-4 and serve to win the match. Without being scared, Báez -one of the best pieces of the new generation of national tennis players- served impeccably, without giving up points in that last and heavy game. Thus closed his masterpiece.
“He started off well. I didn’t start it in the best way. He didn’t expect it to be so windy, but when he finished the first set I tried to start the second in a totally different way, because the way I had started it wasn’t working out. I’m happy to have been able to pull off such a difficult match”said Báez, who this year had his debut in the Argentine Davis Cup team (last March, at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club, in the 4-0 victory against the Czech Republic, winning the first point of the series to Jiri Lehecka).
Due to the rival’s ranking, the victory against Cilic is not the best of Báez’s career, since this year he had beaten Chilean Cristian Garin, who was 18th, in the 8th round of the Córdoba Open. But it is the victory with the greatest impact for the category and the history of the opponent. Although clay is not the surface that Cilic dominates the most, he does have interesting records: 2 titles and 61.3% effectiveness (130 wins, 82 losses). The other important victory of Báez in the current season was against the Spanish Albert Ramos Viñolas (31st) in the semifinals of the ATP 250 in Santiago de Chile (the Argentine lost in the final against the Spanish Pedro Martínez).
Báez’s rival in the quarterfinals will be Frenchman Richard Gasquet (35 years old, current 80th, 7th in 2007), who beat Bolivian Hugo Dellien 7-6 (7-5) and 6-2. Báez and Gasquet never met, but they did share training sessions together, including this week in Estoril (in addition, they share the same clothing sponsor and coincided in advertisements).
“They are very difficult opponents. Gasquet was another player who was in the Top Ten, who has been on the circuit for many years and will be a difficult rival, who has been winning good games”, Báez limited himself to venturing, that in the live ranking appears 54th (if he adds another victory in Estoril it will open the doors to the Top 50). The Argentine who last season he won six trophies on the Challenger Tour (the second category of professional tennis) and who entered the top one hundred in the world in November, continues to evolve, taking firm steps in the elite. In Estoril he signed another outstanding performance.
Nothing was ever easy for Báez. Neither his development in tennis nor his rise in the elite of the circuit. In 2021, for example, did not receive invitations from the ATP tournaments, but despite this he managed to exceed his goals. “It was a decision by the organizers of the tournaments, they will have their reasons, but it is something that made us stronger. To the place where we arrived, we reached it by pure and exclusive responsibility of ours. Nobody gave us anything. It has extra value. Effort pays,” Báez explained to THE NATIONin an interview conducted in December.
The tennis player and his coach are working hard on the emotional aspect so that Báez continues to make quality jumps, that he is encouraged and that he believes in his conditions. After his victories in Estoril against Sousa, first, and against Cilic, later, Baez left a message in the traditional “signature” of the camera. “Why not me? (Because I do not?)”, the player wrote. The phrase was seen on a bracelet worn by the American Frances Tiafoe, a tennis player very committed to equality and the fight against racism, and both Báez and his coach found it interesting, in a certain way, to adopt it and have it as an incentive . Why can’t he keep dreaming?