New Kid on The Block
January 24, 2011 -- "Aggressive to the point of psychosis," is how Andy Roddick described Alexandr Dolgopolov.
But Roddick's characterization only captures an initial reaction to the 22-year-old Ukrainian's style of tennis. Robin Soderling knows what it feels like to be at the opposite end of a court from Dolgopolov, the unlikely kid that halted the big Swede's quest for his first major title.
"He has a great backhand and he's moving very well," Soderling began. "He's a great counter puncher. He has a good chance to do really well, I think."
Few would have bet the #46-ranked youth would topple Soderling: his record was too good, his force would overwhelm, and his experience in majors outranked the kid's. But Dolgopolov defeated Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (#13 seed) in the previous round in five sets. And fans and media who have followed him over his early career knew the cork would pop sooner rather than later.
Dolgopolov recovered from his five-setter with Tsonga, looking fresh, nimble, and calm throughout his five-set victory over the 4th seed. He never showed signs of giving up or any emotion, for that matter. He didn't yell 'come on' at the end of a point or after every point as some do, annoyingly. Instead he portrayed the epitome of centered and calm.
Dolgopolov's unconventional style could have startled some unfamiliar eyes, which was at times Soderling's undoing. Dolgopolov buggy whipped his forehand and stepped into it, looking rather classic -- low to high. Then he buggy whipped his hips, launched from the court as if in flight, his back arched and his legs curled below him. Instead of watching where his shots landed and how they affected the point, some eyes were riveted on Dolgopolov in a type of awe or stupor... what did he just do? Yet he went about his business, unfolding this play of leaps and artistic athleticism that thrilled after the initial fascination drifted away.
He played with a two-handed backhand on topspin drives, but flattened them out when necessary. His underspin shots twisted away from Soderling, at times, leaving the big guy off balance and instantly on the defensive because his return had no bite and less depth.
Dolgopolov's serve quickly cracks a speedy sound. Like Roscoe Tanner, Dolgo's motion is fast and compact. There's no high toss followed by a fall of the ball, lift off and contact. Instead, his knees bend as his hips lean awkwardly into the net while the ball is tossed. Bingo... there goes the serve. He served almost twice as many aces, 11, as Soderling.
Dolgopolov's stature is unlike Canadian Milos Raonic, another new name that made his way through qualification and to the fourth round when he met a very determined and consistent David Ferrer. Raonic is six-five.
The Kiev native is a fit six-feet, but appears smaller. He glides over the court with foot speed many pray for and dream about. His combination of foot speed and expressive strokes are compelling. Winning points and the match elevated his style to a new frontier.
His style of tennis seemed as if it were developed in an otherworldly dimension or maybe it was a long period of incubation that created his flair. His upbringing could have been a factor.
He is the son of Oleksandar Dolgopolov, a former ATP pro and tennis coach. His mother was a gymnast who won gold and silver medals at the European Championships. When Alexandr was very young -- 3 to 10 -- he traveled with his father on the ATP tour. Oleksandar coached former ATP star Andrei Medvedev, the man who came close to defeating Andre Agassi in the 1999 French Open final.
"I was always around the players' lounge playing with all the stars there," Dolgopolov began. "Everybody knew me. I was in the tennis circuit. Andrei hit with me. For sure Thomas Muster was playing with me like the most, and Marc Rosset. When there's a kid on tour, all the players try to play with him. I had a nice time."
At the young age of ten, Dolgopolov started to practice professionally. "Less school and more into tennis," he said.
In 2008, he hired Aussie Jack Reader. "We got a bit tired of each other because I always see him. It's pretty tough relationship, like father and coach. So we decided it's better, and everybody's happy now."
His rise in the ATP rankings was steady until a year ago, when he broke into the top 100. He's ranked #46 currently.
Dolgopolov has been in Australia since December. His tolerance for heat isn't the best as was vividly seen last summer during the steamy days of Rogers Cup in Toronto. His foot speed worked okay, but once it ended his head dropped. He looked as if he'd pass out. This pattern annoyed several opponents. Philip Petzschner was so disturbed by the ups and downs displayed by Dolgopolov that he wouldn't shake his hand or acknowledge him after being defeated.
"This year I got a lot stronger physically," he began. "I worked out consistently in preparation for the year. I don't have to risk that much as I did last year. So I can really get my game up. I don't need to do like stupid shots, miss a lot. I'm getting more consistent."
Dolgopolov admits that he likes the stage of center court. He likes to compete, which takes any player to the victory celebration. He tries to stay positive, staying away from the struggle that some players feel. He doesn't spend much time watching other players, but admires Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
"Everybody has something in his game that is interesting to watch. But I'm not into watching tennis, apart from being on tour. I like to, you know, relax and keep away from tennis."
Away from tennis Alexandr Dolgopolov said he likes to drive fast cars, especially his Subaru.