By Jethro Broughton
With the amount of incredible (and mostly deserved) hype around Carlos Alcaraz, the spotlight has been far away from the new generation of ATP players coming through. The ascendancy of the young Spaniard has been so magnificent that players like Sebastian Baez have been somewhat cast aside on the hype train. 21-year-old Baez is due to play Alexander Zverev on Wednesday, and it’s time to have a look at what this guy can bring to a tennis court.
If you’re yet to know much about Sebastian Baez, here’s a quick rundown. He hails from Argentina, stands at just 5’7, and is an excellent clay court player. Remind you of anyone? Yes, Diego Schwartzman is the one you’re thinking of. Though they both share a gritty competitive edge, rally tolerance and an enormous will to win, this is where the comparisons fade away a bit. Baez, despite his stature, has some serious weapons in his game.
He has a surprisingly big serve, and hits his spots really well. Where Schwartzman often struggles behind his serve with no big weapons to back it up, Baez has a phenomenal forehand that causes plenty of damage. I often find it tiresome when pundits only ever talk about a short player’s height, mostly because it comes across as immensely patronising. However, it is quite ridiculous how much power Baez possesses when you look at his frame – how on earth can he crush forehands the way he does? The man can absolutely blast winners off this wing from anywhere in the court in any direction he likes, and his backhand isn’t too shabby either. It’s truly refreshing to see a player not be pigeonholed into playing a certain way due to their size. Baez plays like he’s Juan Martin Del Potro, and I absolutely love it.
A reason as to why Baez isn’t particularly hyped up or well known yet is that this is his first full season on tour. He had an incredible 2021 on the Challenger circuit, notching up six titles. He started last year ranked at 309 in the world, and finished at 99. He capped off his brilliant year with an appearance at the ATP Next Gen Finals, where he reached the semi-finals. Now? He’s 36th in the world, and is on track to be a seed at Grand Slam level. His transition to the main tour in such a short space of time has been incredible, and far better than many players we’ve seen in recent times.
The Argentine has 21 total wins on the ATP Tour, 18 of which have come already this year. I expected big things, but I did not expect him to win a title on the main tour in the first half of the year – which is exactly what he did. He reigned supreme in Estoril in stunning fashion – beating Sousa, Cilic, Gasquet, Ramos-Vinolas and Tiafoe along the way. It was a stunning week for the Argentine, and it confirmed to me and plenty of others that he could well be a top player in the near future. It won’t be surprising to see him dominate the Golden Swing along with the likes of Casper Ruud for years to come.
It won’t be long before Baez is having big success at Grand Slam level. In his first ever appearance at a major, he reached the Australian Open 2nd round. He took on eventual semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, where he took the Greek to four sets. This was on a less preferred surface, and he still made an excellent showing of himself against one of the top players in the sport. At such a young age with such little main tour experience, it’s hard not to think this guy is going to be an absolute force in tennis.
Due to play Zverev in the 2nd Round at Roland-Garros, this is a great chance for Baez to show his worth. He recently lost to Zverev in Rome, but made a decent match of it and took the first set to a tiebreak. Such have been his rapid improvements in recent times, I won’t be surprised if this is one hell of a contest. He’s got the firepower and can mix it up with his excellent feel and movement around the court. I firmly believe he can cause the 3rd seed plenty of trouble in this matchup. Will he win? It’s not particularly likely, but hopefully this is the match where he finally catches the attention he deserves.
Sebastian Baez: remember the name.