Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, we have the youngest Brazilian tennis player EVER to win an ATP title, and we’re looking forward to the packed fixture list in the Copa Libertadores group stage. That, and much more. Enjoy your read!
Thiago runs Wild in Chile tennis triumph
Thiago Wild, a 19-year-old tennis player from the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, overcame Norwegian opponent Casper Ruud in Sunday’s final to win the Chile Open in Santiago—his first-ever ATP Tour win.
Why it matters. The trophy makes Thiago the youngest Brazilian tennis player ever to win an ATP Tour event. Gustavo Kuerten was the previous record holder, having won the French Open singles title in 1997 when he was 20 years old. Thiago has also become the first-ever player born in the 21st century to win an ATP event.
Wild’s Wild Card. Thiago had a tricky path to the final in Santiago, having only entered the Open on invitation, being ranked 182nd in the world at the beginning of the tournament. On his road to the trophy, he dispatched Argentinians Facundo Bagnis and Juan Ignacio Londero, before getting past Chile’s Cristian Garin (ranked 18th in the world), who had to pull out of their quarter-final in the second set due to injury. He beat Argentina’s Renzo Olivo in straight sets to make the final, where he won 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Next Big Thing. The buzz around Thiago Wild was already significant, after he became the first Brazilian ever to win the U.S. Open youth tennis tournament in 2018. He is now set to rise to 113th on the world rankings and is already on his way to Australia for Davis Cup duties with Team Brazil.
Tennis no grand slam in Brazil. The list of great Brazilian tennis players is fairly empty, with large gaps in between, causing the sport to never really take off in the country. This can also be explained by the exclusive nature of tennis in the country, with memberships to clubs being prohibitively expensive for a vast majority of families, and prominent players restricted to wealthy families from the South and Southeast of Brazil.
The Copa Libertadores is upon us
After weeks of qualifying rounds, the group stages of the Copa Libertadores is finally getting underway this week, with seven Brazilian clubs in action. Here’s what you should be looking out for:
(All kick-off times in Brasília Standard Time, UTC -3)
- Defensa y Justicia v. Santos (Tue, 19:15). Brazil’s participation in the Copa Libertadores group stages begins in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, as fabled Libertadores veterans Santos take on tournament newcomers Defensa y Justicia. One of the biggest surprises in Argentinian football of late, the Halcón (Falcons) have become known for their daring and adventurous playing style and could cause some problems to more accomplished opponents. They are also managed by former Argentina striker Hernán Crespo, which could bring some international interest. Santos, on the other hand, are still finding their feet under new Portuguese coach Jesualdo Ferreira. A tight draw at the weekend against rivals Palmeiras showed they have resolve, but struggled to create attacking opportunities. A potential banana skin for the Brazilians.
- Internacional v. Universidad Católica (Tue, 7:15 pm). After making it through the qualifying rounds and ending up in the same group as their bitter rivals Grêmio, Internacional will be hoping for a strong start to their campaign, hosting Chilean big dogs Universidad Católica. Both teams are under new Argentinian management: Eduardo Coudet at Inter, and Ariel Holan at Católica. The pair are among the most promising coaches on the continent right now, so it will be intriguing to see how both fare.
- América de Cali v. Grêmio (Tue, 9:30 pm). Here, the interest is less on Brazilian side Grêmio than it is on the return of a former South American giant, Colombian club América de Cali. The country’s top team in the 1980s, América became the only football club to make it onto the “Clinton List,” which was a group of blackballed Colombian businesses who were banned from doing any transactions with U.S. companies. This came around due to long-standing rumors that the Red Devils operated as a money-laundering front for the Cali drug cartel, particularly crime boss Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela. Financial struggle ensued and América spent many years in the second division, only now returning to the Copa Libertadores. Grêmio, of course, have nothing to do with that, and will be entirely focused on returning to Brazil with three points in their suitcases.
- Athletico-PR v. Peñarol (Tue, 9:30 pm). The reigning champions of the Copa do Brasil, Athletico will be looking to remain at the top table in South America by a strong showing in the Copa Libertadores. A decade ago, this group would be regarded as a much trickier prospect, as they face Peñarol (Uruguay), Colo Colo (Chile), and Jorge Wilstermann (Bolivia). However, Uruguayan and Chilean sides have struggled immensely in recent continental competitions, and the altitude advantage usually enjoyed by Bolivian sides has become less of an extreme factor. Tomorrow night, Athletico start against Peñarol at home, where they have an excellent record. It remains to be seen which Athletico will take the field, however, as they are a much-changed outfit since last season. Manager Tiago Nunes is now at Corinthians, while many key players have moved on.
- Tigre v. Palmeiras (Wed, 7:15 pm). In a bizarre combination of events, Argentinian club Tigre managed not only to qualify for the 2020 Copa Libertadores, but were also relegated from the first division last year, due to Argentina’s system of calculating relegation based on an average of a team’s results over three seasons. To that end, you would expect Palmeiras to have an easy time of things against second-division opposition. However, the team is still working things out under new (old) coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, so it wouldn’t be a shock if this one is closer than expected.
- Junior Barranquilla v. Flamengo (Wed, 9:30 pm). The reigning South American champions begin their title defense on Wednesday night with a potentially tricky away fixture against Colombian champions Junior. Flamengo have managed to improve their squad over the off-season and are already winning titles in 2020, grabbing the Brazilian Super Cup and the Recopa Sudamericana. The way things are going, they seem unstoppable. Junior are hoping to qualify from the group and may fancy an upset against the favorites, but an unbalanced and somewhat disorganized team like themselves will have a lot of trouble against the Brazilian champions.
- Binacional v. São Paulo (Thu, 9 pm). São Paulo kick off their Copa Libertadores group stage with a very tough away tie indeed. Based in the Peruvian city of Juliaca, near Lake Titicaca, Binacional have the highest home stadium in the entire tournament, meaning that altitude may still be an issue. São Paulo have been gradually improving this year under coach Fernando Diniz, but this is surely a make-or-break year for many at the club, not just the manager. With big names such as Dani Alves, Alexandre Pato, Juanfran, and Hernanes in their squad, expectations are high.
What else you should know
Atlético-MG. In a shock result in the Copa do Brasil, first division side Atlético-MG were dumped out of the tournament in the second round, losing on penalties to tiny provincial club Afogados da Ingazeira. After a 2-2 draw in normal time, Afogados won the shootout 7-6 and eliminated their big-time opponents. Afogados were only established as a football club in 2013 and this season will play in the national championship for the very first time.
Atlético-MG (2). After their embarrassing cup loss, Atlético’s board called for mass firings, sacking coach Rafael Dudamel—who only managed the club for ten matches—as well as director of football Rui Costa and technical director Marques. Atlético decided to spend big to bring in former Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli as the replacement boss, meaning the club will now have its 14th coach since 2013.
Rule changes. In a meeting to define the rules and fixtures for the 2020 Brazilian championship, clubs and the national football confederation voted on some rule changes for this year’s league. The biggest alteration was banning the so-called “sale of home advantage,” by which clubs could move their home matches to different stadiums in search of financial gain. This tactic was used by big and small sides: the major teams would send home matches to other parts of the country where they have large fanbases, while smaller clubs would take games against popular opposition to larger stadiums in search of bigger gate receipts.
Women’s World Cup. In the Fifa Congress in Ethiopia this June, the host nation for the 2023 Women’s World Cup will be chosen—and Brazil is in the running. After the spurt in public interest of last year’s tournament in France, Brazil are hoping to continue the growth of women’s football in the country by organizing the next edition of the major trophy. Running against them are bids from Colombia, Japan, and a joint entry from Australia and New Zealand.