By Craig Gabriel
MIAMI: It takes a lot of different aspects to win a tennis match at this level of the sport because, as it has been said time and again, everyone can play the game. You need the strokes, the physical fitness, the mental focus and you need patience because tennis so often is a waiting game; waiting for the right opportunity to strike.
And while you can certainly have all that working for you, there is one part of the equation that can ruin it all and allow an opponent to get through. That part is being lucky and having the luck fall your way. You try your heart out but when lady luck decides to favour the opposition it can get disheartening.
No question that Tommy Haas played a very good match against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round of the Sony Open Tennis but when it mattered, the luck was not on Alex’s side of the net. The German won the match 6-3, 6-2.
“I had a chance to go up 3-0 and he hits an ace on a second serve and he played unbelievable,” Alex said. “When I played slow he was attacking and he never gave me chances, but if I had them he played too good.”
Early in the second set there was a point played by the two men and Alex produced a return winner that was beyond belief. It even led Sports Illustrated’s Tweeter to comment that “is the point of the year” but unluckily it was called out. It was an important stage in the match because it would have allowed Alex the chance to get right back in.
“I couldn’t break back; it was not going my way when I needed,” Alex said. “I was hitting the ball low but unfortunately they were not going in, just missing the lines.
“We are pretty much the same in the rankings and I have some advantages but he was defending really well and everywhere I couldn’t finish out the points – it went one way all the time.”
However, for Alex there is a feeling or encouragement compared to the very start of the year when he was battling injuries. Now he is fit and healthy and “feeling really good with no pain”.
His attention swings to the clay court season but first he will play Davis Cup which he is looking forward to. In Ukraine’s previous Davis Cup tie he was playing with a severe leg injury, this time he is 100% and the experience is bound to be more enjoyable.
“I will take a few days off and then start working for Davis Cup. I will change my footwork and work on endurance for the clay courts. I am looking forward to the clay because it’s my best surface and the last two years I have not been in perfect condition but this time I am,” he said.
“I was not able to be fit before so it will be good to get some wins and hopefully this year will be better.”
Alex is playing Monte Carlo, Munich, Madrid, Rome and the French Open.
Alexandr Dolgopolov rekindled a career experience by being part of Ukraine’s winning Davis Cup side and on top of that he has set himself a new goal which is to break into the world’s top 10 for the first time this year.
Alex started the year by reaching the quarter finals in Brisbane but then scored one of the toughest first round draws at the Australian Open when he faced Gael Monfils. Even though Alex lost that match, it remained one of the most entertaining matches of the entire two weeks in Melbourne.
It was a frustrating match for him because during the battle he hurt his upper left leg making it difficult to give 100% but the standard of play was certainly not lost on him.
“I feel the level of the matches very well when I play and this was one where I felt the excitement,” said Alex. “The standard of the first two sets was good, but it got worse when I hurt the upper leg and couldn’t jump anymore on the serve and I just got slower.
“Playing in that sort of atmosphere is always good; it’s nice to play on crowded courts, and Margaret Court (Arena) is really nice, it was not my first match there. Not too big but nice and loud.”
He expressed mixed emotions. On one hand he was really disappointed because of the injury and the loss, but on the other hand he “felt during the first two sets that I have improved physically from last year” and that he didn’t need to be concerned playing long rallies anymore. Overall Alex wasn’t unhappy with his game.
But the injury did take away some of those positives. He went back home and started working with his new physio, Alessio in an effort to get ready for Davis Cup. Two days before the tie against Slovakia started, he began hitting balls.
Davis Cup was like a breath of fresh air for him … albeit cold air. After six years away from the world’s biggest annual team sporting event, Alex was back. Davis Cup instils something different in a player. As you are not playing for yourself but for your country and team mates, players find something extra deep down in their psyche. Being sick or injured and the like just don’t seem to come into the equation.
“For me it’s something new and special. It’s great to be playing for your country; you have different kinds of emotions, more responsibility,” said Alex.
While it was really nice being in that position, it was also a weekend wracked with nerves. The leg injury had not allowed him to hit too many balls and that element of responsibility was on his mind.
“I went on court Friday without knowing if I would make it to play a whole match, so for the captain it was not an easy decision. He was quite nervous. Davis Cup is being played best of five and I had hit 50 minutes in two weeks, but luckily we pulled it through,” he said with a cheeky smile.
However, while playing Lukas Lacko and coming back from a set down to win in four sets to square the tie, Alex injured himself again, this time he twisted his left ankle, the same leg that was injured against Monfils.
It caused him to withdraw from San Jose which was disappointing because this American swing of events is where he intends to make a big rankings push. He is working on getting his rhythm back and hopes to be 100% very quickly.
All along, by his side, will be a very familiar figure but at the same time a new recruit. You see Alex is now being coached by his father.
“He is my new-old coach and we work well together now,” he said with a laugh, a laugh that can be quite infectious if you are with him. “Dad is not that strict anymore as he used to be and is more focused on my game. And I too have also changed a lot and this helps him. He doesn’t need to push me so much anymore as before, now I am more responsible and able to work on my own as well.”
All that can only be seen as positive.