Despite falling to Roger Federer in a merely one-hour long semifinal, Alexandr Dolgopolov’s run at Indian Wells was still one of the stories of the tournament.
The Ukrainian all-courter made headlines when he defeated world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the third round 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) – only one month after losing in straight sets to the Spaniard in the final of the inaugural Rio Open.
It wasn’t the victory on its own that caught the eye, but the manner in which Dolgopolov achieved it.
On one hand, the 25-year-old hustled Nadal around the court on every point, swatting at every return ball and powering vicious, angled forehands to set himself up for easy volleys or drop shots; the latter his weapon of choice, as Viktor Troicki experienced first-hand at the 2011 French Open.
When he wasn’t winning points, however, he was committing the simplest of unforced errors, often digging himself into unnecessary holes, as has been the norm throughout his career. By the end of the match, he had 49 unforced errors to Nadal’s 23, despite hitting 19 more winners.
In California, “Dolgo” then went on to upset world No. 13 Fabio Fognini, followed by No. 12 Milos Raonic in straight sets to secure his ill-fated encounter with the Swiss, who went on to lose a three-set final to Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (3).
Dolgopolov’s explosive, entertaining showing at the highest level of the ATP Tour is not surprising considering his indisputable talent – though unexpected based on his tournament record in the past year.
After bursting onto the scene in 2011, defeating first Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and then Robin Söderling on his way to the Australian Open quarterfinals, and winning titles at the 2011 Umag Open and 2012 Citi Open, Dolgopolov failed to make it past the third round of any Masters or Grand Slam event until Indian Wells.
During this period, he also parted ways with previous coach Jack Reader of Australia, who once claimed, “You wouldn’t try to teach this,” when referring to the player’s unpredictable mix of trick shots – a feature that, along with his unique choice of headband, makes him one of the more unique players in professional tennis.
Nevertheless, after the run at Indian Wells and earlier at the 500-level Rio Open, this looks to be Dolgo’s year.
The exuberant player will next feature at the Miami Masters, where he is the 22nd seed and has a bye in the first round. In the second round, he will face the winner of the match between Jarkko Nieminen and Bernard Tomic.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis