ATP Tour Official Tournament

Where tennis meets Carnival! 10 years of ATP Tour action in Rio de Janeiro

19 February 2024 By Grant Thompson
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Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the withdrawal of Marin Cilic from the Rio Open presented by Claro due to injury.

Beyond being a world-class tournament, the Rio Open presented by Claro, which marks its 10th anniversary this year, transcends as a week-long celebration where the ATP Tour fully embraces the lively atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro.

This year, just two days after the city's iconic Carnival celebrations come to an end, some of the world's biggest names will begin their title bid at the opening clay-court ATP 500 of the season. To celebrate 10 years of top-class tennis on the Brazilian coast, looks back on a decade of the Rio Open presented by Claro.

With potential off-court activities including attending the world famous Rio Carnival, taking cable-car rides up Sugarloaf Mountain or even a helicopter tour across the Brazilian city, the excitement is more than a week of forehands and backhands at the Jockey Club Brasileiro venue. Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic are among those who have soaked in the vibrant Rio Carnival during their prior stays.

“It was the first time we had the chance to enjoy the Rio Carnival and it has been an unforgettable experience," Nadal said after his visit. "There was unbelievable positive energy [from] everyone. Everyone was singing and dancing, it was fantastic for me to have the chance to enjoy this unique experience."

In 2023, it was World No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz who enjoyed a helicopter tour of the city, even passing over Christ the Redeemer.

“It was the first time that I had flown in a helicopter. I was a little bit scared at the beginning, but it passed really fast,” Alcaraz said. “To see the Redeemer from the helicopter was marvellous.”

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz takes photos of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Fotojump/Rio Open

It was perhaps fitting that the inaugural champion in Rio in 2014 was the ‘King of Clay’ himself, Nadal. Playing in his first tournament since losing the Australian Open final to Stan Wawrinka and suffering a back injury, the Spaniard escaped a semi-final scare against countryman Pablo Andujar, who took the opening set. The-then World No. 1 rallied, however, winning a dramatic third-set tie-break 12/10, and he went on to march past Alexandr Dolgopolov in the final.

“Especially in an unbelievable city like Rio, a big tournament… To have this title with me, it means a lot after the final in Australia, to come back and win the title,” Nadal said.

David Ferrer emulated his countryman Nadal by lifting the Rio trophy in 2015, before Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas became the first South American to triumph at the tournament in 2016. Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman (2018) and Chile’s Cristian Garin (2020) later also enjoyed title runs at the biggest ATP Tour event on their home continent.

Dominic Thiem won the hearts of Brazilian fans in 2017. The Austrian, who arrived on the clay straight from the indoor hard courts of Rotterdam, did not drop a set all week en route to the title. During the trophy presentation, Thiem sported a jersey of Neymar, who the year before had captained Brazil to their first men's football Olympic gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“This is the best feeling you can have, winning a title. It's all you practise for,” Thiem said.

Former World No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten and Dominic Thiem share a laugh at the 2017 Rio Open trophy ceremony.
Former World No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten and Dominic Thiem share a laugh at the 2017 Rio Open trophy ceremony. Credit: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Laslo Djere completed a fairytale run in 2019, capturing his maiden tour-level trophy and dedicating the title to his late parents. The Serbian’s mother passed away in 2012 and his father died just two months prior to his title run.

“I don’t know many tennis players who went through these things. I want to be that guy who inspires others and shows that you can still be successful,” Djere said after lifting the trophy.

“It’s been the week of my dreams. So many things have been achieved here. I’m really happy, excited and emotional now. I’m happy I could push through this match because it was very tough mentally and physically.”

In 2022, a young teen — Alcaraz — was sending shockwaves throughout the tennis world. The Spaniard burst onto the scene combining monstrous groundstrokes with delicate touch. Alcaraz earned his first ATP Tour match win in Rio as a 16-year-old in 2020 and two years later the Murcia native had his hands around the trophy, becoming the youngest ATP 500 champion since the category was created in 2009.

Alcaraz was forced to play both his quarter-final and semi-final on Saturday due to rain, but double duty brought no trouble to him, as he upset top seed Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini. Alcaraz overcame 2018 champion Schwartzman in the final to earn his second tour-level title, which lifted him inside the Top 20 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time.

“I can’t believe it, honestly. It has been a great week for me playing a great level,” Alcaraz said. “First tournament on clay since a long time, so I’m really happy with the performance during the whole week. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Alcaraz was denied a successful title defence last year, however, as Cameron Norrie battled past the Spaniard in a dramatic two-hour, 41-minute final. Alcaraz led Norrie 7-5, 3-0 and looked well on his way to beating the Briton for the second consecutive week, having defeated him the week prior in Buenos Aires. Right leg issues began to hinder Alcaraz, and so too did a brick-wall Norrie, who eventually claimed his fifth tour-level title.

Cameron Norrie/Carlos Alcaraz
The 2023 finalists Cameron Norrie and Carlos Alcaraz lead the field again in Rio this year. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

“So special to win this one, especially I'd lost a couple finals already this year and I had to do it the tough way," Norrie said. "A set and a break down and 0/30 on my serve, I was looking done there and I managed to flick a switch and turn it around.

“Especially on a surface that I'm not too comfortable with. I had to battle a lot of demons the last couple weeks, but I managed to just play well in the big moments and that's what it took.”

The 2024 edition of the event promises to be another thrilling week, with six Top 30 players in action and the past four champions set to make their return to the Rio clay. Alcaraz, Norrie, Djere, Nicolas Jarry, Francisco Cerundolo, Stan Wawrinka, Arthur Fils and Sebastian Baez are among those in the field.