The 19-year-old won his first ATP Challenger Tour title last month

An international trip alone may seem like a daunting task for many 12 year olds. No hands-on guidance from your parents, no coach by your immediate side, and as a pre-teen still wet behind the ears, you have to go beyond your native language to navigate your way through a foreign country.

Such was the case for Paraguay's Adolfo Daniel Vallejo, a now rising #NextGenATP player on the ATP Challenger Tour, who travelled solo to south Florida for his first tournament outside South America in 2016. What transpired that week proved to be a pivotal moment in Vallejo’s journey to where he is today. Facing the best juniors in the world, Vallejo realised he had the level to compete beyond the borders of his home country.

“When I reached the semis of the under 12s Orange Bowl, that was the first big international tournament that I played and I made the semis. I had seven match points and I lost. I was fourth in the Orange Bowl 12s and after that I kept improving,” Vallejo told ATP “I made quarters in the 14s Orange Bowl. I was No. 1 in juniors. I always realised that I can [be a professional].

“That was my first time [playing outside South America]. I went alone and at the airport, you have to get into the country, so that is also tough. That was a big step for me. It was tough for sure.”

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While that trip to the junior Orange Bowl was a significant stride for Vallejo, his first steps on a tennis court happened at age six, alongside his dad Gustavo and two brothers Joaquin and Juan Pablo, who both went on to play college tennis in the United States. Joaquin played at Jacksonville State University in Alabama and Juan Pablo went to North Carolina Wesleyan University.

‘Dani’, now at a career-high No. 304 in the PIF ATP Rankings, began playing at the Club Internacional de Tenis in Paraguay's capital city Asuncion, where last month the South American country hosted its first ATP Challenger Tour event since 2010.

Though the 19-year-old Vallejo, who turns 20 on Sunday, suffered a second-round loss on home soil, it was his next outing in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil where he made history. The teen became the youngest Paraguayan to win an ATP Challenger Tour title and just the fourth overall from his home country.

“I'm just really proud that I can be on the list and hopefully younger players can look up to me and see that they can make it in the future,” Vallejo said. “I know that in my home country there's not really that many players, but still it's something very difficult to do because there's not many players that can do it, so that means it is very hard to do it.”

Adolfo Daniel Vallejo is crowned champion at the Sao Leopoldo Challenger.
Adolfo Daniel Vallejo is crowned champion at Challenger 75 event in Sao Leopoldo, Brazil. Credit: Giovani Paim

At eighth in the PIF ATP Live Race To Jeddah, Vallejo trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar for one year, finishing his stint in Mallorca in August 2023. Now splitting time between Buenos Aires and Asuncion, Vallejo also had the opportunity to learn from the world’s best as a sparring partner at the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals.

One person in particular who offered compliments and even a technical tip was 98-time tour-level titlist Novak Djokovic.

“I hit with him two times. I warmed up with him before the semis and the final. He was really nice,” Vallejo said. “When we finished practise, he told me that he really liked the way I play but he would like me to keep improving the forehand. It was about the racquet head speed, keep improving that.

“It's really nice to have a legend like Djokovic give you some advice and be so nice to you. It was a really nice compliment that he told me he really liked how I play.”

Before Vallejo’s title run in Brazil, the last Paraguayan Challenger champion was Ramon Delgado, who the former junior No. 1 relies on as a mentor.

As a wild card at the Sao Leo Open, Vallejo was two points from defeat in the opening round as Liam Draxl served for the match. In the final, Vallejo downed Enzo Couacaud, who the following week won the Florianopolis Challenger.

“I made a statement on tour that tournament, that I can be at this level,” said Vallejo, who started the season at No. 472 in the PIF ATP Rankings. “It was a boost in my confidence for sure.”