The Hong Kong Telegraph - Nalbandian advice buoys Cerundolo in Miami Open run

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Nalbandian advice buoys Cerundolo in Miami Open run
Nalbandian advice buoys Cerundolo in Miami Open run

Nalbandian advice buoys Cerundolo in Miami Open run

Francisco Cerundolo is using the help of his boyhood hero to boost an unlikely run to the Miami Open semi-finals.

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The Argentine arrived in south Florida with an 0-2 tour-level record on hard courts, but after 11th-ranked Italian Jannik Sinner retired trailing 4-1 in the first set of their quarter-final the 23-year-old is now one win away from Sunday’s final.

Cerundolo, ranked 103rd in the world, grew up idolising Argentina tennis legend David Nalbandian. Now that 40-year-old Nalbandian is coaching Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, who takes on 18-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals on Thursday, he has never been too far away for a chat and some advice at Hard Rock Stadium.

"This year I started having a better relationship with him and all of the guys that were at the top level when I was a kid," said Cerundolo, whose brother Juan Manuel was knocked out in the third round by Frances Tiafoe before Cerundolo beat the American himself.

"As I'm improving and playing at the biggest events, I'm able to meet them more often, so it's amazing. When I was young, my idol was Nalbandian. I love the way he played and look up to him.

"Of course we are going to have a chat. They can give me some thoughts and experience they had in the past, so it's really nice to be able to, I don't know, to just hang around with them, and they are gonna give me some tips. It's fantastic."

Cerundolo has really hit his groove in Miami, beating Tallon Griekspoor, Reilly Opelka (second-set retirement), Gael Monfils and Tiafo before seeing Sinner, with whom he had practised over the last couple of days, suffer so badly with a blister on his right foot that he was unable to continue.

With both men’s and women’s matches during the Wednesday day session ending early with retirements, there wasn’t much to cheer but one group of very loud, flag waving Argentine fans were at least able to see the Buenos Aires native move into the biggest match of his life.

Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro had a huge South American following in Miami and Cerundolo hopes to use it to his advantage.

"I don't know those guys in the stand but maybe I can meet them," he smiled.

"There's such a huge Argentine population here and they're very supportive of Argentine players.

"Yesterday I played an American guy, and I think more people were cheering for me than for him.

"I love to play with my people, Argentina people, Latin people. It's fantastic. I think it brings my best inside the court."

Sinner, who was forced out in Indian Wells earlier this month before a last 16 match against Nick Kyrgios because of illness, felt the problem in his foot when playing the Australian in the fourth round on Tuesday and quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to compete as the match with Cerundolo progressed.

"It's a blister, and I couldn't move," he said. "It's tough because I was playing well."