When Dominic Thiem battled Rafael Nadal for nearly five hours at the 2018 U.S. Open, he permanently threw off the chains of that very particular label: “clay-court specialist.” That label feels like a criticism, or at least it certainly CAN seem like a swipe at a tennis player. In reality, it is merely meant to reflect results and comfort levels on various surfaces. Marco Cecchinato is a clay-court specialist, and there’s really nothing wrong with that at all.
So: If you’re going to be a clay-court specialist, what do you do? The answer is simple: You specialize. Be special on clay.
Cecchinato was exactly that over the past week in Buenos Aires, especially in Sunday’s final against home-nation favorite Diego Schwartzman.
The story of this final was not hard to process or understand. Schwartzman played a long, tense and taxing semifinal against Dominic Thiem and then played doubles with Thiem late into Saturday night. Cecchinato cleanly won his semifinal against Guido Pella (4 and 2) and was the much fresher player. Schwartzman had a nation at his back, though, so he surely hoped adrenaline could carry him through one more singles match. (Diego had the doubles final with Thiem after singles as well.) It wouldn’t have been the first time a player ran low on energy but received boosts from a partisan crowd to score an unlikely victory.
Cecchinato had to be on his game. He was.
People can talk about favorable circumstances all they want. Not everyone can take advantage of them. Cecchinato did.
The clay specialist did a lot of clay specializing in Argentina, and now he has a third career ATP title. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Does anyone outside his own family deeply care what Cecchinato does at Indian Wells or at Wimbledon? Maybe… but this is not a 21-year-old spring chicken who has a long career ahead of him. Cecchinato will turn 27 in September. His rise to prominence in men’s tennis has been built on the strength of clay-court expertise. He was given a great gift for clay-court tennis, so it is his professional calling to maximize what he can do on red dirt.
In Argentina, he lived up to his calling.
“You only live once” is sometimes given the acronym “YOLO.” Marco “YOLO” lived his best life in Argentina.
It will be fantastic to have him around for Monte Carlo and the full 2019 clay-court season.