By E.J. Crawford
Throughout the year, EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com will feature players who could make an impact during this year's Series. Here’s a look at 25-year-old Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov.
The Baseline: Dolgopolov first made waves in the professional game in 2011, when he reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and the fourth round of the US Open. He finished that year ranked No. 15 in the world and ascended to No. 13 in early 2012. Then he seemed to hit a wall, his results tapering off as opponents adjusted to his unusual game – Dolgopolov frequently takes the ball on the rise and employs a series of spins and flat forehands that oftentimes seem to confound both him and his opponents.
But Dolgopolov is back on track in 2014. He reached the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open tune-up in Sydney to start the year, and in February reached the final in Rio and the semifinals in Acapulco, falling to Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson, respectively. He followed that with a shocker: knocking off Nadal, the defending champion, to reach the semifinals in Indian Wells. (He also topped world No. 11 Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals.)
The Breakdown: Dolgopolov’s quirky strokes have never had much effect on grass – he is 9-10 on the surface – but no one wants to see his name in their section of the draw on clay and, increasingly, on hard courts. After claiming all 10 of his Futures and Challenger titles as well as his first pro title on clay, Dolgopolov won his first hard-court title in 2012 at the Emirates Airline US Open Series event in Washington, D.C., and in 2013 he reached the semifinals at the Series event in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the quarterfinals in Tokyo. Moreover, he backed up his showing in Indian Wells by upsetting world No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka en route to the quarterfinals at the Sony Open in Miami.
Dolgopolov’s showing in Indian Wells boosted his ranking to No. 23, up from No. 57 at year-end 2013. That is the biggest jump this year of any player in the Top 50 and means he will avoid tougher opponents earlier in draws as the season progresses. And if he can harness his game and play with the consistency he has shown thus far in 2014, Dolgopolov figures to be a legtimiate contender for a Top 3 finish during this year's Series season.