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By Alberto Amalfi | @Tennis_Now |Saturday, February 24, 2024


Qualifier Mariano Navone stunned defending champion Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-2 to set up an all-Argentinian Rio final vs. No. 5-seeded Sebastian Baez.

Photo credit: Rio Open 10 Anos Facebook

Pounding his palm against his chest, Mariano Navone charged into his maiden final with a strong heart and heavy strokes.

Qualifier Navone dismantled defending champion Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-2 to o set up an all-Argentinian Rio final vs. Sebastian Baez.

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Arriving in Rio with an 0-2 career record in ATP main draw events, Navone played through qualifying, earned his first career ATP main-draw win and swept Norrie for his first Top 50 win, reaching his first final and becoming the first qualifier to reach an ATP 500 final since Jiri Vesely at the 2022 Dubai.

“It was incredible. It’s incredible,” Navone said. “It’s a pleasure to play here in Rio.

“It’s my first ATP 500, so I’m very happy to make my first final. I played so good all the week and I [hope to] go for the title tomorrow.”

Amid oppressive humidity that left both men sweat soaked, Navone mastered both brutal conditions and world No. 23 Norrie, denying the Briton’s bid to defend a title for the first time in his career.

Though Norrie worked through a hard-fought hold for 3-2 the game seemed to take life out of the Briton’s legs. Norris, who seemed to be suffering from dehydration or physical illness, fought hard but could not consistently contend with Navone’s baseline barrage.

From 2-3 down, the qualifier won 10 of the final 13 games and looked fresh enough to go another couple of sets after a physical two-hour victory.

“Today it was very hot, humid very wet also,” Navone said. “So it’s tough to play in these conditions, but in the night it’s far easier than in the day.

“At 4 p.m., this place was like the sun. So this conditions are tough, but I think I play six matches in a row so I feel good.”

World No. 113 Navone, who jumps to a career-high ranking of No. 60 with this fantastic final run, will try to keep the ride rolling against Baez.

In the first semifinal, the fifth-seeded Baez made a stirring stand of his own.

Down 4-5, Baez staved off three set points—and did not lose another game rolling through a 7-5, 6-0 sweep of Argentinian compatriot Francisco Cerundolo.

"We know each other too much, I think more than I want," Baez said. "All matches are different. Today it's going to my side. In the first set, I gave many break points to him. I had to take it because it's so hard for both."

Showing strength and poise under pressure, Navone began dialing in his deep returns midway through the opening set.

Reading the wide serve, Navone whipped a return down the line to send Norrie reeling into a defensive flick. The qualifier swooped forward for an angled volley to break for 4-3.

A confident Navone backed up the break at love for 5-3.

Evoking memories of compatriot Tim Henman, Norrie was serving-and-volleying routinely throughout the ninth game trying to shorten point.

In a punishing 10-and-a-half-minute game that saw Norrie resort to the underarm serve—and lose the point—and five-serve-and-volley plays, he denied five set points holding for 4-5 and looking a little staggered.

By then, Norrie saved nine of 11 break points. After that grueling hold, Norrie took a medical timeout including having his pulse taken.

Zapping an ace down the T brought Navone three more set points.

On his sixth set point, the qualifier closed the 66-minute opener for a one set lead.

Both men were dripping sweat as Norrie left the court to try to regroup. Pacing slowly between points, Norrie appeared to be ailing, but Navone was unrelenting. Navone exploited a double fault and wild forehand miss breaking to start the second set.

The world No. 113 was bouncing on his toes like a boxer ready to battle, while a drained Norrie looked physically spent across the net. Leaning into a crosscourt strike, Navone broke again at 15 for 4-1.

Turning his head sideways, Norrie was tried to clear clogged ears with his towel and continued to battle.

On this night, Navone had the answers.

Facing his fourth break point of the semifinal, Navone slid a clean ace out wide to erase it. His third ace helped the Argentinian hold for 5-1.

The 22-year-old Navone served out his biggest career win with complete confidence and will face Baez in their first pro-level meeting.


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