Ever since its inception in 2000, the stretch of early-season clay-court ATP tournaments through Latin America colloquially known as the “Golden Swing” has had at least one current or former member of the world’s Top 10 emerge triumphant at an event.
That’s far from the case in 2019.
Wild cards, teenagers and unseeded players have all had an impact at the tournaments this year that have been captured in the recent past by such clay-court stalwarts as Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and David Ferrer, with former Grand Slam champions and world No. 1s like Gustavo Kuerten and Carlos Moya also among the champions.
Those winners have gone on to distinguish themselves on the dirt during the spring and summer, leading up to and including at the French Open.
Will the current crop be able to replicate their early-season feats when the game’s grandest prizes are on the line?
The Golden Swing got off to a rather surprising start this year at the first event in Cordoba, Argentina, which replaced the Ecuador Open on the calendar. Italians Fabio Fognini and Marco Cecchinato, the top two seeds, dropped their opening matches, which made the third seed Diego Schwartzman the favorite to triumph at home. His run ended at the hands of his countryman Guido Pella, who would go on to face the most surprising potential finalist in the field in the championship match.
Juan Ignacio Londero, who’d never won a match at the ATP level before the week, capped off his dream run in three sets over Pella in the final.
Next on the calendar was the Argentina Open, where two-time champion Dominic Thiem was playing his first event since the Australian Open. Schwartzman dashed the Austrian’s title hopes in the semifinals, but came up on the losing end in the final to Cecchinato, who won the third title of his career, all on clay.
While it appeared a measure of stability was on display in Buenos Aires, that all went by the wayside at last week’s tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thiem, Fognini, Schwartzman and Cecchinato—the top four seeds—were all gone after the first round. In fact, the only player among the eight seeds to make it past his opener was Joao Sousa. However, the fifth seed lost his second match of the tournament.
Laslo Djere, who upset Thiem, maintained that momentum through the week as he faced off against another first-time finalist, Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Serb would go on to win the only 500-level event of the Golden Swing in three sets against the young Canadian.
The consistency of years past has been replaced by unpredictability in 2019, even though some of the finalists at the three events have stuck around in the last tournament in Sao Paolo, Brazil, this week. Pella is through to the quarterfinals, with Djere joining him.
Also still in the hunt is Auger-Aliassime, who upset fifth seed Pablo Cuevas in the first round. The Canadian has shown a knack for clay in his young career: Between Challenger and Future tournaments, seven of his nine career finals at those levels have come on the dirt. He'll face Djere for a spot in the semis.
Will the 18-year-old be able to carry over that form into the spring? Nadal and Thiem have dominated over that time the past several seasons, with Top 20 mainstays like Fognini and Schwartzman also carving out space for themselves.
If this year’s Golden Swing is any indication, though, there’s room for more less-heralded players to have an impact as well.
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