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By Chris Oddo | Sunday February 24, 2019

 
Laslo Djere

Serbia's Laslo Djere completed an improbable title run in Rio on Sunday when he took out Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final in straight sets.

Photo Source: Buda Mendes/Getty

His fairy tale run started in the first round in Rio when he sailed past top-seeded Dominic Thiem for his first Top 10 win.

Laslo Djere’s fairy tale then became an opus and an uplifting song for those who've known loss as the Serb moved through the Rio Open draw without dropping a set and finally clinched his maiden ATP title on Sunday with a 6-3 7-5 victory over rising Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The tennis was solid, heavy and purposeful.

The emotions were raw—and so beautiful.

Mainstream tennis fans and many in the media, largely unfamiliar with Djere as he entered the week with a career-high ranking of 83 and a lifetime record of 20-29, have watched in awe as the stoic 23-year-old shared the details of his personal journey with the world during the week. He lost his mother to cancer around seven years ago, and then, just recently, his father passed away as well.

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Living without the parents that created and shaped his dream, there was nothing for Djere to do but honor them, and he's done that in dramatic, heartwarming fashion this week in Rio, claiming his maiden title without the loss of a set and setting himself up for his best season as a professional.

Call it a sign from above, if you will.

After his victory Djere, still grieving and soaking in the therapeutic healing that this title has offered, thanked his kid sister for being a pillar of strength in his life and aimed his gratitude at the heavens, no doubt hoping that his mom and dad were watching from above as he put the finishing touches on a made-for-Hollywood script by converting his fifth championship point on Sunday.

After the final Djere took to the podium and told the appreciative crowd what he had told the media in the days leading up his crowning achievement. His coach, Boris Conkic, in tears, filmed the speech as he bawled. The crowd, melting, applauded. Gustavo Kuerten, a man and a legend who lost his father at the age of seven and later soldiered on as the Guga we know and love to reach the highest heights of tennis, raced over to congratulate him, slapping his back warmly as Djere was ushered away by tournament organizers.


It was surreal to be sure, as a stoic Djere spoke to the crowd, probably trying harder not to cry than he did to win the title.

Even if instinctually we wanted Djere to break down and let us see him weep, we now know that he couldn’t. He’s the big brother that had to be strong. If he let himself go right there on the podium, how would he ever stop?

How, one wonders, have we not seen Djere at this stage of an ATP event before? He’s a physical specimen that hits a heavy ball, knows his way around a clay court, and has a winning lifetime record on clay. He beat Pablo Cuevas, Borna Coric and Nikoloz Basilashvili on the clay in 2018.

But it does not matter now. All that matters is that something extra special clicked for Djere this week in Rio, and the signs point to healing.

We can talk of the draw that was shattered from the first round on, but if we do we must first note that Djere was the player who shattered it by knocking off Dominic Thiem.

From there he did what we always want to see from players who concoct memorable first-round upsets and rarely ever do: he went on a run for the ages and blasted his way to the title.

And now we know that this wasn’t even your typical run-of-the-mill mind-blowing dream-meet-reality moment. This was a run with an unbearably beautiful spiritual and emotional tint. Any of us who’ve lost parents—no matter the age—were aching right along with Djere. But to lose both parents, so close together and at such a young age? And to soldier on so brilliantly, honoring the contribution those parents made and the family they created and left behind?

Unfathomable.

You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned much of the match, one in which Djere was the more solid player from start to finish against his 18-year-old adversary. That’s because break points and baseline bashing don’t measure up to the real gist of Djere’s triumph.

But we will mention this: Djere will rise inside the Top 40 of the ATP rankings on Monday, which means he’ll be gaining direct entry to a lot more tour-level events this spring and summer.

Hopefully he’ll find that therapeutic as well.


Notes and Numbers

Though he lost in the final it was a brilliant week for Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime. He became the youngest player to ever participate in an ATP 500 final in the ten years that the tournaments have been in existence. His got a bright future so keep your eyes on this kid.

All eight seeds failed to reach the quarter-finals at Rio—it marks the first time this happened at an ATP event since 2011 Stuttgart.

Auger-Aliassime is projected to make his Top 100 debut at around 60 in Monday’s ATP rankings.

 

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