Sebastián Báez, with LA NACION, after winning his first ATP title: “A week ago I had little confidence, but I changed my energy”

Sebastian Baez he confesses that his scenario, just a week ago, was totally the opposite, at least emotionally. After playing the final in Santiago de Chile (his first ATP) and debuting with personality in the Davis Cup, he brought more slaps than caresses. Prompt eliminations in Indian Wells, Phoenix, Miami and Barcelona, ​​in addition to a painful loss in the first round of Monte Carlo in a match he could have won (loss in three sets to Pablo Carreño Busta), shook him, but they did not get him out of focus. Convinced of the work that he has been doing for years together with his team, he went ahead, trying; and this Sunday, in Estoril, he closed a circle, achieving his first title on the circuit.

Sebastián Báez, “biting” Rafa Nadal style, the Estoril ATP champion trophy. Estoril Open

You can still hear the emotion in Báez’s voice (21 years old) when he answers the call of THE NATION from the entrails of the Clube Ténis Estoril, scene of the Portuguese event with 597,900 euros in prizes. She has just beaten the American Frances Tiafoe in the final (6-3 and 6-2) and celebrating, as if she were just another boy, jumping around with the ball-catchers in the middle of the court. She enjoys what she has achieved now, but she doesn’t lose sight of what happened yesterday. That particularity makes him value the process and draw conclusions; of the good and the points to perfect.

“Last week I was in a different situation, because I had just lost several games in the first round, with little confidence., I had to try to start again another week… They were complicated and tense moments. What’s more: on my first day in Estoril I couldn’t imagine winning the tournament. I was happy to beat (Joao) Sousa [en la primera ronda]. But I started looking more and more. Winning the title is a reflection of a lot of work behind it, because it is not by chance”, says Báez, the 33rd Argentine to be crowned in ATP singles.

Along the way he left rivals with strong surnames. The road ended with Tiafoe, but before that it was Sousa, an outstanding local reference. Later Marin Ciliclater Richard Gasquet and in the semifinals the one who came as defending champion, Albert Ramos Vinolas. “They were difficult games, but at the same time nice challenges, against players who were very good but who were not at their highest level at the moment, something that I had to take advantage of -explains Báez-. Gasquet is not the one who was number 7 in the world, but in any case he has a spectacular hierarchy and he had to be overcome. I had good moments throughout the week and also some difficult starts. But I had to face the difficulties and I did it”.

The history written in Estoril has an extraordinary wink of fate. From the beginning of the tournament and after each victory, Báez signed the TV camera with a “Why not me?” (Because I do not?), a leitmotif inspired by a bracelet worn by Tiafoe…, who ended up being his last rival. “Is incredible. Recently Tiafoe was playing a game, we were watching it with my coach [Sebastián Gutiérrez] and he says to me: ‘Did you see the bracelet? You have to tattoo what it says. We take that phrase carefully, more than anything with the meaning of believing in me, in what I have, in what I am, in valuing myself. Because I do not? If one believes, one canBaez tells THE NATION.

Báez’s next challenge on tour will be to compete in the classification of the Masters 1000 in Rome. In Madrid, which is played this week, he did not enter directly: he was supposed to play the qualifier but he dropped out since the action was during the weekend, at the same time as the Estoril Open.

His link with Tiafoe is not new: he is, according to the Argentine, one of the players who showed him the most cordiality in these few months that he has been in the locker room of the ATP Tour. During the award ceremony, the American, an athlete committed to equality and the fight against racism, ran from the spotlight and had no problem uncorking a bottle of alcoholic beverage and pouring it on the champion’s head.

Frances Tiafoe "bathing" Sebastián Báez, the champion of the Estoril Open, during the award ceremony.
Frances Tiafoe “bathing” Sebastián Báez, the champion of the Estoril Open, during the award ceremony. Estoril Open Press

“It was written, it was the energy, it couldn’t be different. In the semifinals, Tiafoe was against match point, almost to go, but won and reached the final. I had already lived through the final in Santiago, in which I lost, I had to remove the splinter and I was able to. Here, after the game, I ran into Frances in the locker room and we chatted a bit. She had never trained with him, she just greeted him and he did it with a lot of good vibes unlike others, who are more distant. He is a great guy. I like him very much. One of the best people I met on the circuit. As I said before: a week ago I had little confidence, but I changed my energy”, says Báez.

-In 2021 you won six Challenger trophies and at the end of the year you entered the Top 100. A few months later you are already an individual ATP champion. What magnitude do you give to the achievement?

-I see it as a good week and as a motivation to continue improving. They are fulfilled objectives that at the end of my career I will be able to see and enjoy them more than now. Today I don’t know how big or small it is. It is very important, yes. But I am 21 years old and I want to continue growing and doing great things. The year just started, we are not even halfway through yet, there is still a long way to go. I feel that.

In the locker room, after the Estoril final: Sebastián Báez, the champion, together with Tiafoe (finalist) and Sebastián Gutiérrez (Argentine's coach).
In the locker room, after the Estoril final: Sebastián Báez, the champion, together with Tiafoe (finalist) and Sebastián Gutiérrez (Argentine’s coach).

-You entered Estoril being 59th and you leave within the Top 40, which will allow you to surpass Roger Federer in the ranking, who is obviously inactive, but the data is still striking.

-Yes, it’s very relative, Roger hasn’t played for a long time, he’s injured and at the end of his career. He is one of my idols. He will always be one of the greatest of all time. I hope he can play a little more, I would love to. I say the same about Juan Martín (Del Potro). It is my wish for both of you.

Baez's signature on camera as the Estoril ATP progressed: from "Why not me?  (Because I do not?)" to the "Yes it's me!  (Yes, it's me!)" .
Baez’s signature on camera as the Estoril ATP progressed: from “Why not me?” to “Yes it’s me!Estoril Open

-By winning an ATP you fulfilled one of your dreams and ended up signing the camera “Yes it’s me!” (Yes, it’s me!). What’s next?

(Smiles) – I would love to know! For now, I’m leaving Estoril empty, with nothing to reproach myself for, a feeling that I wasn’t taking away from the tournaments. I was missing things. But I feel this victory as a consequence of the work we do with my team. I lived a great week, in which I grew as the days went by. I am very happy with what was achieved, I value it, but we are going for much more.