Tennis in South America has long been an integral part of the ATP landscape. Its many diverse and vibrant cultures are stitched into the fabric of the sport, with numerous stars and legends hailing from the region.
Now, the continent is expanding its footprint even further. The ATP has announced the launch of a new circuit as part of the ATP Challenger Tour, the Circuito Dove Men+Care Legión Sudamericana. Founded and organised by former World No. 31 Horacio de la Pena, the continued growth and development of professional tennis in South America is its main objective.
With the goal of creating more opportunities for players at the Challenger level and increasing their exposure throughout the region, De la Pena and his team of former ATP stars are spearheading this initiative. The circuit will kick off with four clay-court tournaments in April, beginning in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and followed by events in Concepcion, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as in Lima, Peru, in early May.
“I’ve spoken with many players and they all tell me the same thing,” said De la Pena. “That we need more opportunities in South America. As a professional tennis player coming from here, I know that it is very difficult to grow without this. We are creating a circuit where South American players can travel with their coaches. We are making swings that are very close to each other, with easy flights, similar conditions and altitude, same balls and the same surface. Players can benefit from this as they are playing these tournaments, getting the experience and going up the [FedEx ATP Rankings].
“It’s these opportunities that can help so many players and that is what we are doing with Dove Men+Care. We came together and decided to do this. That is why I am so happy to work with the ATP, because we all understand the needs of South American tennis. With this energy, we are going to make it great.”
Upcoming Tournaments on Circuito Dove Men+Care Legion Sudamericana
|12 April||Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia|
|19 April||Concepcion, Chile|
|26 April||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|3 May||Lima, Peru|
De la Pena is targeting 12 tournaments on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2021, with the goal of expanding even further in the coming years. He explains that many events will be strategically placed in the lead-up to Grand Slam qualifying. The four initial clay-court tournaments will lead into Roland Garros, with a potential grass event in Brazil prior to Wimbledon and two hard-court stops ahead of the US Open.
“It’s so important to have someone like Horacio driving the resurgence of Challengers in South America,” said Alison Lee, Executive Vice President ATP International Region and Challenger Tour. “He has so much knowledge of the region, the people, former players and what it takes bring everyone together to stage these events. Providing as many Challengers as Horacio is targeting in the long-term, will hugely impact up-and-coming players from the region.”
Ross Hutchins, Chief Tour Officer, said: “The Circuito Dove Men+Care Legión Sudamericana sets a blueprint for providing additional playing opportunities for local up-and-coming players on the ATP Challenger Tour, all through the know-how and passion of former ATP players and coaches, led by Horacio, who are giving back to their sport. To have a commercial partner backing the series of events shows the significant value created through this regional swing. This is fantastic news for tennis in South America and sets a great example for other regions as well.”
The most unique, and arguably the most integral, aspect of the Argentine’s plans include the involvement of tennis legends from the region. With the help of the national federations in South America, De la Pena has created a team to further the promotion and dialogue around the growth of tennis on the continent. Members from all countries are included, featuring many former stars of the ATP Tour. These players will be directly involved in the growth of tennis in their home countries, through the development of tournaments on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“I really think that being united makes us stronger. If we all spread our efforts, to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, it will be better. If we stand together as a group, it will help South American tennis. That is the main thing.
“I spoke with guys like Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil), Nicolas Lapentti (Ecuador), Luis Horna (Peru) and Santiago Giraldo (Colombia) about organising tournaments in their countries. Pablo Cuevas (Uruguay) and Hugo Dellien (Bolivia) are still playing, but they are helping too. Mariano Zabaleta and Agustin Calleri are going to run the tournaments in Argentina and Juan Monaco will help the tournament we have planned in Punta del Este, Uruguay. They all wanted to do something for tennis in South America, but they didn’t know how. We gave them a reason to stay in tennis, but with a purpose.”
Having enjoyed a 10-year career as a professional, which included four ATP Tour titles, three more on the ATP Challenger Tour, a Top 40 stay in the FedEx ATP Rankings and victories over the likes of John McEnroe, Mats Wilander and Jim Courier, De la Pena is using his extensive knowledge and experience in his latest endeavor. Not only does he want to create more opportunities for players to grow, develop and mature, but also allow them to increase their exposure on an international scale.
“This is important for players and potential sponsors, and gives them even more recognition in their countries,” added De la Pena. “The Challenger Tour makes you very strong for the ATP Tour. The level is a lot stronger than when I played. You have newcomers who hit the ball really hard and guys with experience who are tough to beat. It’s such an important stage to pass and you have to win many, many matches to move up. The Challengers really filter who can make it and who cannot. You need to always be improving here, because when you get to the ATP Tour, it makes you find that extra level.”
For more than a decade, the ATP Challenger Tour has built roots in South America. De la Pena acknowledges the foundation these tournaments have laid over the years. Lima, Peru and Guayaquil, Ecuador, celebrated their 13th and 16th editions, respectively, in 2020, and the tournament in Montevideo has also been a longtime stalwart, with 15 editions in the Uruguayan capital. These events are notorious for providing fans with a world-class experience, with vibrant social scenes that include on-site entertainment and local cuisine. But this year, with players’ health and safety at the forefront, De la Pena has outlined a different set of priorities.
“For 2021, the main goal is that no one gets COVID,” De la Pena added. “I am thinking about bubbles, facemasks, making the players feel comfortable and safe. Everything we do will include facemasks and social distancing. We have to be very serious with these things and that is my main focus. I am confident we can make this a great success.”
The 2021 Circuito Dove Men+Care Legión Sudamericana launches on 12 April in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, and will be followed by tournaments in Concepcion, Chile, on 19 April, in Buenos Aires, Argentina on 26 April, and in Lima, Peru, on 3 May.
Diego Schwartzman, ARG [World No. 9]: “This is amazing for South American tennis, and especially during these tough times, to have so many tournaments coming to the region. When I started playing tennis, I was lucky to have many tournaments there and that helped me a lot. It’s a great achievement and now more players can compete in their home countries. I hope that tennis continues growing in South America.”
Robert Farah, COL [doubles World No. 1]: “This is a very special moment for everyone in South America. Bringing so many tournaments to so many countries is very important for our tennis. It’s a great initiative and it will only help promote tennis in the region. Players can now compete at home, and growing up in Colombia, I know how important this is. All these tournaments can only help us grow and develop on our own continent and give players the opportunity to rise the rankings.”
Guillermo Coria, ARG [former World No. 3]: “I want to congratulate everyone involved in making this happen for tennis in South America. I have no doubt that Horacio de la Pena will bring the same passion that he had on the court to this new endeavor. For players in South America to have the possibility of competing so close to home, it is incredibly important. When I was on tour, having the opportunity to play in South America helped me get to the Top 100 and stay there. I wish everyone much success and that the young, rising players take advantage of these opportunities.”
Nicolas Lapentti, ECU [former World No. 6]: “It’s clear that in South America there is great talent, but we just need more resources. This circuit will go a long way to helping us develop tennis here. It will also inspire even younger players to pick up a racquet and give them the incentive to play this wonderful sport.”
Nicolas Massu, CHI [former World No. 9]: “I’m very happy that the Circuito Dove Men+Care is bringing so many tournaments to South America. It is very important to have the biggest talents in the region competing so close to home. This will help them develop and grow both on and off the court. It is something spectacular for them and for tennis in South America.”