On 1 May this year, while the Mutua Madrid Open was in its final week, Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos were busy elsewhere, winning their first-round clash in Aix-En-Provence, a tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour. This Saturday, when the Spanish-Argentine duo progressed to the decisive match of the Nitto ATP Finals, they could not help but remember that turning point in their season, which may now end in the best possible way if they are crowned champions in Turin.
“We did go through a difficult spell in terms of results, but it made us stronger,” remembered Granollers. “We spoke more during that time, spent more time together, trained more to see how we could improve. Basically, we had to get through it,” he added. “We went to play in a Challenger, convinced that we had to play some matches. And here is our reward; we came through the difficult times, and we’re getting some big results.”
That ‘difficult spell’ Granollers spoke about, stretched from Buenos Aires to Aix-En-Provence, time during which the team suffered eight defeats and only picked up one win, a record that is difficult to accept for a duo with plenty of experience among the elite.
Playing in that ATP Challenger Tour event, as well as doubling down on training and the conversations off court, had an almost instant effect: The pair reeled off semi-finals in Rome, the final in Geneva, semi-finals at Roland Garros, the Wimbledon final, semi-finals in Canada, and the title in Shanghai, among other results. Hence their qualification for the Nitto ATP Finals.
“This week we’re both playing very well,” exclaimed Zeballos. “We’re a stable pair, the years are going by and I feel very comfortable with him and I think Marcel does too. So we have to keep having fun, both on and off the court,” continued the Argentine.
“At the end of the day, you come here, you know all the matches are going to be very tough,” Granollers continued. “We’re playing against the best teams on a fast court, and indoor. You expect difficult matches, and that’s what we’re getting. Everything is decided in the key moments and on the finer details.”
Despite that, Granollers and Zeballos are unbeaten in their run at the Nitto ATP Finals and have only dropped one set along the way (on day one, against Santiago González and Edouard Roger-Vasselin).
Granollers has already won the Nitto ATP Finals (in 2012, alongside Marc López), and Zeballos has also played in big finals (two at Wimbledon – 2021 and 2023 – and another at the 2019 US Open).
“We’ve played in many finals and we’re trying to approach it as if it were the first round,” explained Zeballos. “Particularly here, I keep saying that every match is a final. Tomorrow that’s actually true, but we’re going to keep treating it the same,” continued the Argentine. “We’ll try to do everything that’s in our hands: control the tennis and our minds. Hopefully then we’ll get the result we want.”
“We have to continue doing the same,” agreed Granollers. “Of course, it’s a final, but we’ve played important finals already and we have to concentrate on the level we’re producing and on doing our own thing,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”