Cuevas Outlasts Pella, Rain For Rio Title
Pablo Cuevas won his first ATP World Tour 500 title early Monday morning, dodging rain drops to defeat a dogged Guido Pella 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 in the final of the Rio Open presented by Claro.
Toppling Rafael Nadal seems to be the blueprint to winning a clay-court title in 2016, after Cuevas sprung the upset in Saturday's semi-finals and Dominic Thiem did so en route to the Buenos Aires crown a week ago. It was the 30-year-old's fourth ATP World Tour title overall and first since lifting the Sao Paulo trophy exactly one year ago. Cuevas, who became the first player in history to oust five straight left-handed opponents in clinching a tour-level title, takes home $303,300 in prize money and 500 Emirates ATP Rankings points.
"I'm very happy to win my first 500 title, especially after winning a special semi-final against one of the greatest players ever on clay (Nadal)," said Cuevas. "Today, against Guido, I won a difficult but good match between the two of us. I really love my time in Brazil, not only when I'm on court. I enjoy it when I play here.
"Guido is a very complete player. He had a great week here. I have nothing but nice words to say about him."
A big opportunity awaited both players in the final, but the weather would not cooperate in the early stages. After letting two break points slip in the fourth game, Pella edged ahead at 3-3 30/0 when the skies closed above the Jockey Club Brasiliero. A three-and-a-half hour rain delay would ensue, leaving both players to reassess their strategies in the locker room.
Upon resumption of play, it was Cuevas who would draw first blood, showing great discipline from the baseline in snatching the first break for 5-4. He would close out the set a game later. Cuevas was ruthlessly efficient on serve throughout the encounter and even steadier when engaged in extended rallies from the back of the court. The second set would end in a tie-break, where the Uruguayan had the match on his racquet, serving with a 5-4 lead. But Pella would reel off three straight points to force a decider and send the match past midnight.
In the third set, they remained on serve until the 10th game, where Cuevas pounced, claiming victory on his first match point when a Pella forehand found the net. He fired 14 aces and 29 winners in total, converting two of three break chances to prevail after two hours and 15 minutes on court.
The battle of unseeded players was the first in a 500 level final since Valencia 2011, when Marcel Granollers beat Juan Monaco. With the win, World No. 45 Cuevas became the lowest-ranked champion at an ATP World Tour 500 event since 46th-ranked Leonardo Mayer won in Hamburg in 2014.
Pella, meanwhile, was bidding to claim his first ATP World Tour title in his first final. The Argentine, who saved three match points in his opening encounter against John Isner, vaults to a career-high Top 50 spot in the Emirates ATP Rankings despite the loss.
"It's been a great week," said Pella. "Now, I have to get used to being in the Top 50 for the first time. It's big, but I need to continue to focus and work hard."