By Christopher Lancette
WASHINGTON – When Alexandr Dolgopolov spots a ball he can attack, he springs to life like a sleeping dog smelling a whiff of bacon. The 23-year-old almost levitates as shuffles his feet into position, draws the next shot or two in his mind, and pounces.
The 25th-ranked Dolgopolov feasted on a heavy diet of such points this week – enough to fuel his rain-delayed 6-7, 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 36 Tommy Hass today at the Citi Open. One second he’s serving out wide and racing in for a put-away volley, the next he’s running wind sprints between the sidelines before cracking winners.
|Alexandr Dolgopolov – Photo by Wonok Kim|
Forget playing defensively and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.
“I have so many shots that I like to risk,” Dolgopolov said after winning his first 500-level championship and second title overall. “It’s a part of me, like my personality. I like risking in life so I do that on the court. I just like to play tennis like that; I don’t think about the percentage. I like to do it my way and that’s how I win.”
Dolgopolov is as confident driving winners through openings only he can see as he is racing cars at 200 miles per hour. That’s how he loves to spend his free time. Leave golf for the milk toast crowd.
His unconventional style was born when he was a kid. He was undersized and had health issues occasionally. Dolgopolov compensated for it by swinging for the fences – strikeouts be damned — like a Ukrainian version of Babe Ruth.
The power and prowess, along with the pitfalls they create, were on full display against Haas. Dolgopolov struggled a bit early in the first set, allowing it to go to a tiebreaker. At 7-all in the breaker, he came to the net and was in position to put away a volley. Instead, he chose to let Haas’s passing shot go by and drop in for a winner. Dolgopolov sent a forehand long on the next point, giving Haas the early momentum.
Dolgopolov began to find his rhythm through the course of the second set, constantly forcing Haas to work exceptionally hard to hold his serve. He held his own serve more easily, often filling Fitzgerald Stadium with the electricity of his strokes. At 1-all in the second set, Dolgopolov raced back toward the baseline to retrieve a would-be winner from Haas. He stopped, planted his feet and whipped a stunning forehand past a diving Haas. Up 5-4, he broke Haas’s serve – if not also his spirit – with a combination stab returns, lobs and vicious groundstrokes.
Haas admitted the match got away from him in the second set, too.
|Tommy Haas – Photo by Wonok Kim|
“In that second set, I think I cracked a little bit mentally,” Haas said. “I made a few bad decisions and was behind a break.”
The 34-year-old Haas turned in an excellent week of work himself and will see his ranking go up next week as well. His Citi Open accomplishments add to a great summer that has also included a title at Halle and a finals appearance at Hamburg.
“It has been unbelievable,” he said. “Obviously I’m a little frustrated now. I thought I had some chances to maybe win this title and I really wanted it. Overall, I’m obviously proud to get here to a final. I played really solid tennis. I just hope I can stay injury free and keep going and try to keep improving.”
Haas said he has no doubt that Dolgopolov get better, too.
“I know he’s got a pretty tricky serve, a pretty tricky game,” he said. “You have to be ready for all sorts of things. He’s got good firepower and he keeps the ball very flat. He’s a shot maker and he goes for his stuff. He’s tough and he has a good future ahead of him.”
Dolgopolov said he was going to celebrate the win in a way that a lot of people can appreciate.
“Drink some beer,” he said in answer to his evening plans. “I can’t really afford to celebrate too much. I play Tuesday already in Toronto. I have a flight in the morning. I have to have a practice tomorrow. It’s a bit of a tough schedule but still I’m happy to win here.”
Opponents at the Rogers Cup next week won’t see anything different from him than they’ve seen all year. Lest anyone think Dolgopolov is just a free spirit who plays with no rhyme or reason, there is a method to his madness.
“That’s my game, you know – to miss shots and to make winners,” Dolgopolov explained earlier in the week. “That’s what I understood this past half a year when I tried to play more solid. The (other) players get more comfortable and everyone is hitting so well these days that you can’t give them time. It’s more comfortable for me to make an error than let the player, the opponent, play really well. Then, you don’t have control of the match. For me, it’s better to make errors and make winners than let the guy beat you in a normal-paced game.”
Dolgopolov can certainly drink to that tonight.
Follow Christopher Lancette on Twitter @chrislancette. Get a look at the Citi Open men’s doubles finals later this week in World Tennis Magazine.
All photos below by Wonok Kim