By Kelyn Soong, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The devoted fans who stuck around after two rain delays to watch the men’s final at the Citi Open were treated to an emotion-filled three-set marathon.
Neither player had dropped a set all week, and it was fourth-seeded Tommy Haas who took the first set. But Alexandr Dolgopolov, playing in Washington, D.C. for the first time, kept his composure and won 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-1 in front of an appreciative crowd.
The 23-year-old Ukrainian employed his arsenal of shots against the veteran Haas, who grew visibly frustrated as the match went on. Haas, a citizen of both Germany and the United States, yelled obscenities in his native tongue, threw his racquet and chastised the chair umpire for not getting the ball kids to clean a wet spot.
Even the normally stoic Dolgopolov muttered to himself in frustration, revealing just how much the match meant to him. Dolgopolov’s lone title came in Umag last year, and this is his first ATP 500-level championship.
At the Citi Open, Dolgopolov’s unique and aggressive style gave players fits. He likened his daredevil technique to his off-court personality, where he enjoys drag racing and isn’t afraid to take the stage for a rap performance.
Back into the top 20, Dolgopolov’s early-season injuries appear to be behind him. If he plays like he did this week, he can continue to make opposing players lose their cool, just as the 34-year-old Haas did on the cloudy Sunday night in the nation’s capital.
Q: Congratulations on the victory. We spoke a couple days ago, and you said this season has been "average" so far. Does this win make it more than that?
A: Yeah, for sure. Now it’s changed a lot. I need to try to [use] that momentum. I reached the semis [in Umag], I won this tournament – it’s really great. It’s a great achievement for me, and I hope I can use my confidence to build it up for the Masters Series to come and then the US Open. I’m going to be a high seed for Cincinnati and then the US Open, and I hope I can take advantage of that.
Q: How does this win compare to your first ATP title in Umag last year?
A: I think it’s bigger because last year I came to Umag, I was around No. 20, and I didn’t really need the points. Now, I was struggling a bit. I lost in Umag. I had a lower seeding in every tournament. It’s big to come back into the top 20 and just get the momentum and just be confident going into the Masters Series and the US Open.
Q: Is this win any consolation for not being able to play in the Olympics?
A: Yeah, for sure. I’m happy I played here, but I still I wanted the Olympics. I can’t say if it’s good or bad. I’m happy just to win the title. I don’t think the events are connected.
Q: This was your first time playing Tommy Haas in a competitive setting. What did you think of his game?
A: His game is really tough to play. I had to really stay confident. He’s really early on the ball. He attacks a lot. You know if he goes to the net, he’s not going to miss any shots, so you really have to pass him. You know you have to keep him on the baseline and try to get back his shots because he can attack from any side of the court. He can serve well. You just know that you have to stay there all the time to beat the guy.
Q: Do you think you’re back to where your game was before you got injured?
A: I can’t say it’s back to last year. I’ve adjusted something to my game. I’m getting better, I hope. I played good in Brisbane. I played good in Australia. I got injured there. It’s pretty much up and down. I’m happy with the way I’m playing, and I think I can go higher.
Q: Talk about your relationship with your coach, Jack Reader.
A: He’s a friend of mine off court. We talk a lot away from tennis. We enjoy working together. He got to work with me when I was already a [professional player], so he had to adjust to that. It’s good that he understands my game and how I should play. I think that’s really big because [my] game is a bit unique. I think he’s doing a really goodjob. We’re both happy with what we’re doing.
I started with him in 2009, but he couldn’t travel with me that time because I was [ranked] 300. He got me up [in ranking]. He got me injury-free. I can’t say he coached my game from the start because my father coached me for more than 15 years, but he’s done a really good job to add all the other things I was lacking to get into the top 100, top 50. We’re trying to go higher, so I think we’ve done a good job in these two years.
Q: Who else do you travel with?
A: Sometimes my parents come out. My sister, my whole family was there at the US Open. They were at Paris this year. Sometimes I can afford to take a girl with me. I had a girlfriend for half a year. We split up in Australia. It always changes, but my family tries to come and support me. Mostly it’s just me and Jack.
Q: Who’s the first person you call after a big win like this?
A: Jack is usually around. If not, then I contact my parents, my family. Then all my friends congratulate me, maybe some girls [laughs]. Just the people who really care about it.
Q: I read in your ATP bio that you enjoy car racing. What aspect of it? Do you actually race?
A: Yeah, I race myself. I went to the Ukrainian drag race championships last year. I have a fast car. I really enjoy it. It’s my big hobby. Ever since I was a kid I liked cars. Not fancy cars, just fast cars. I don’t need a $1 million car, but I enjoy the speed.
Q: If you could pick or perform a song to sum up this week, what would it be?
A: Well, Coolio is my best song that I sing in the karaoke. That’s the first one, but comparing to this week, I don’t know. I need to think of the words in the song. You gave me a tough one. I don’t have an answer for that.