WASHINGTON, October 18, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
The last outdoor and clay court-court match on the ATP Tour this year, at the Forte Village Sardegna Open, was certainly spirited if not memorable.
Both 74th-ranked Laslo Djere of Serbia and 103rd-ranked wild card Marco Cecchinato from Italy came into Sunday afternoon’s final in Santa Margherita di Pula, Italy, looking to remain unbeaten in ATP Tour finals – Cecchinato was 3-0 and Djere 1-0. Also, Cecchinato was hoping to become the first Italian winner on the ATP Tour this season after runner-up finishes by Andreas Seppi in New York and Gianluca Mager in Rio de Janeiro, while Djere looked to become the third Serbian, after Novak Djokovic (four titles) and Miomir Kecmanovic (one title), to win an ATP Tour title this year.
One thing that was certain: regardless of who won, the winner would be the third-lowest ranked ATP Tour champion in 2020. The winner was Djere, 7-6 (3), 7-5. It took him two hours and 19 minutes – and 189 points played between him and Cecchinato – to capture his second career ATP Tour title. But the determined 25-year-old Djere did it – even though it took him four championship points to be able to lift the champion’s trophy.
Djere said during his virtual videoconference that he took each championship point as it came – point by point. “This match really took a lot out of me, but I’m really happy I pushed through it and was able to finish the match and win” he said.
Djere is the champion in Sardinia! 🏆
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 18, 2020
Djere hit three service aces and saved eight of the 11 break points he faced while breaking Cecchinato’s serve four times. He outpointed his opponent 98-91. The victory evened their career head-to-head at 1-1.
Regarding the success Djere and the other Serbian champions have enjoyed this year, he said, “It’s a really good feeling. When you see the others winning, you really believe you can also do it. There’s a rivalry but in a positive way. You want to be better than the others and you are pushing more and more. That is great.”
After each broke the other’s serve in their initial service games to start the final, both players settled down and settled in for a long afternoon of baseline rallies that were punctuated by an occasional drop shot or surprise lob. At the 6-5 changeover with Cecchinato ahead, Djere required medical treatment for his left thigh. He came back refreshed and held serve to force a tie break, then took charge of it.
Djere jumped ahead in the tie break 4-0 before Cecchinato could respond. The Serbian finished strong and won the tie break 7-3, thanks to a well-placed backhand winner up the line that capped an 11-shot rally. It extended Djere’s good fortune of as he came into the final having dropped just one set all week (against Lorenzo Musetti during Saturday’s semifinal).
One set away…
🇷🇸 Laslo Djere edges a tight first set 7-6 over Marco Cecchinato in Sardinia. pic.twitter.com/pm5WCYoJSa
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 18, 2020
As the second set unfolded, Djere missed an opportunity to take a commanding 3-0 lead after breaking Cecchinato in the second game to go ahead 2-0. Instead, he was broken by the Italian after hitting a forehand long on the fifth shot of another developing rally, and Cecchinato consolidated the break for 2-all. Then, Djere saved two break points in the next game but Cecchinato won his third straight game when the Serbian hit a forehand long.
However, Djere recovered nicely and broke back by winning a 20-point marathon game to level the set at 3-all. He consolidated the break by hitting his third ace for a 4-3 lead, then held in his ensuing service game for a 5-4 advantage. Although Djere gained a championship point in the next game, he seemed too eager to close it out and, instead, netted a weak return for deuce. It gave Cecchinato an opening and he hit an overhead winner to hold for 5-all.
After Djere held serve for 6-5, he gained a second championship point against Cecchinato at 15-40 but wasn’t able to capitalize of the opportunity. A third championship point at 30-40 was nullified when he hit a demonstrative forehand return wide going for it all. Finally, on his fourth championship point, Djere made it count. He hit a solid backhand off Cecchinato’s second serve that clipped the baseline for game, set, match, championship.
Laslo at the Double! 🏆
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) October 18, 2020
The title victory lifts Djere into the Top 60 at No. 53.
Despite the loss, Cecchinato, who is expected to rise in the rankings to No. 77 on Monday, was upbeat during his virtual videoconference. “When you lose a final, it is a tough moment. But I leave here with so many positive things because now I am come back to the Top 100,” he said. “I am very happy for this. … I stayed very focused on my game during the match from the first to the last point. There are so many positive things from the past few weeks.”
Clay is Djere’s natural surface
Eleven of the 13 tour-level victories Laslo Djere has earned this year have been on clay. Before capturing the title in Sardinia, Djere was a semifinalist on clay in both Córdoba and Kitzbühel. Both of Djere’s titles have been on clay, first at Rio de Janeiro last year and now in Sardinia.
“I grew up on clay. When I was a kid, I mostly practiced on clay. It is natural for me,” Djere said. “The movements are natural for me. The surface compliments my game style. I play with a lot of top spin, especially on the forehand so I can adapt really fast on clay.
“My main focus is to improve my game on hard courts. So far it is improving, but it could be better. I wish [the improvement] was a little bit faster and I hope I can find a way to be as good on hard courts as [I am] on clay.”