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Latin Slam: South Americans thriving at Roland Garros

  • Matt Trollope

The Miami Open may be unofficially known as “The Latin Slam” yet in 2023 it is Roland Garros taking on that distinction.

Five players from South America have progressed to the fourth round in Paris, a career-best major result for all five. And it marks almost 20 years since the region has enjoyed such a large presence in the second week.

Clay is the surface of choice throughout Latin America and the languages – predominantly Spanish and Portuguese – share a link with French as members of the same linguistic family.

It therefore seems fitting each player is summoning their best tennis in the French capital.

Beatriz Haddad Maia

The Brazilian lefty is the highest-ranked of the five players thriving in Paris, knocking on the door of the world’s top 10 after a career-changing 2022 season.

But despite peaking at world No.12 earlier this year, Haddad Maia had never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament.

That all changed as Haddad Maia rode a wave of passionate Brazilian support through to the last 16. 

Her emotional 5-7 6-4 7-5 win over 23rd seed Ekaterina Alexandrova makes her the first woman from her country to advance to this stage of the tournament since 1979.

She has avoided a major threat in her path after illness forced recent Rome champion and fourth seed Elena Rybakina to withdraw; instead, she will next face Sara Sorribes Tormo for a place in her first major quarterfinal.

Francisco Cerundolo

The Argentine is the highest-ranked of the four South American men through to the fourth round at Roland Garros.

This mark’s the continent’s best performance in Paris since six men featured at the same stage in 2005.

Cerundolo has enjoyed a brilliant clay-court season with quarterfinals in Barcelona and Rome followed by a trip to the final in Lyon. Along the way he defeated some notable opponents in Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner and Cameron Norrie.

In Paris, he continued that trend of upsetting bigger names, felling No.9 seed Taylor Fritz in an atmospheric clash on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

It meant he surpassed his previous best result at a major, which was a third-round run at Australian Open 2023.

Cerundolo has cracked the top 20 in the ATP live rankings and next faces sixth seed Holger Rune.

Nicolas Jarry

Jarry is unstoppable right now, extending his winning streak to seven thanks to a four-set win over Marcos Giron on Saturday.

He arrived in Paris as the ATP Geneva champion from the previous week – a title run that featured stunning upsets of Ruud and Alexander Zverev – and he has continued that form to notch a Slam breakthrough.

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His power is jaw-dropping; the Chilean clubbed 55 winners and forced another 53 errors from Giron, similar statistical dominance as in his upset win over 16th seed Tommy Paul in the previous round.

Until this fortnight, Jarry had never gone past the second round at a Grand Slam event.

He is currently at a career-best ranking of 35th and is projected to crack the top 30 with this run at Roland Garros.

Next up is a re-match with Ruud.

Juan Pablo Varillas

The Peruvian has been an inspiring story at Roland Garros this year, winning all three of his matches in five sets to take a dramatic path to the last 16.

It is reward for the heartache he suffered in his previous two appearances in Grand Slam main draws.

Peru's Juan Pablo Varillas in action at Roland Garros, where he has progressed to the last 16 at a major for the first time in his career. (Getty Image)

Varillas, 27, led Felix Auger-Aliassime by two sets to love last year in Paris before succumbing in five. And at Australian Open 2023, he took a two-sets-to-one lead over Zverev, before again going down.

Now he’s flipping the script, twice rebounding from two-sets-to-love down.

One of those epic comebacks came over 19th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, which preceded an even bigger win over No.13 seed Hubert Hurkacz – the biggest win, by ranking, of his career.

Novak Djokovic is next.

Tomas Martin Etcheverry

Djokovic is also connected to Etcheverry, the ascendant Argentine who uses the 22-time major champion as inspiration for his rise.

The big-hitting 23-year-old has upset seeds Alex de Minaur and Borna Coric to get to this point, continuing his excellent 2023 season.

He has especially thrived on clay, reaching ATP finals in Santiago and Houston, and more recently the ATP Challenger final in Bordeaux.

Etcheverry uses Djokovic as a yardstick for his own career. Back in 2016, when he earned his first ATP ranking point, he posted a picture of himself holding a sign, which showed his points total compared to then No.1 Djokovic’s.

It is a total he has been chasing ever since.

Now ranked 49th, Etcheverry has risen to No.37 in the ATP live rankings, and next faces 27th seed Yoshihito Nishioka for a place in the Roland Garros quarterfinals.