Tennis - ATP World Tour
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Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com pays tribute to the first-time winners of the 2017 season. In part two of our two-part series, we look at the year's final three first-time winners.
Andrey Rublev wasn't supposed to even be playing in the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag main draw, let alone lifting his maiden ATP World Tour trophy. The #NextGenATP Russian had fallen in the final round of qualifying, but after home favourite Borna Coric withdrew, Rublev became a lucky loser and then a first-time titlist, beating Italian Paolo Lorenzi 6-4, 6-2 in the final.
“Of course, it’s amazing. I have no words to explain it. Especially after this tough week and all the feelings that I have been going through. Now, I’m here and it’s amazing,” Rublev said.
He became the seventh lucky loser to win an ATP World Tour title and the first to do so since Rajeev Ram triumphed in Newport in 2009. The title in July was the beginning of an exceptional run for Rublev, who reached the US Open quarter-finals (l. to Nadal) and made the final of the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan (l. to Chung).
It was a title 11 years in the making. Continuing the trend of '30 is the new 20' on the ATP World Tour, German Peter Gojowczyk broke through at the age of 28 in 2017, beating Frenchman Benoit Paire 7-5, 6-2 in the Moselle Open final. Gojowczyk qualified for the ATP World Tour 250 and won seven matches in eight days to earn his maiden crown.
“I'm speechless because I won my first title on the ATP Tour. It feels great,” Gojowczyk said.
The breakthrough came after a series of changes for the German. “I've changed where I train, I'm traveling with my own trainer and I'm trying to stay in shape. In 2014 I was a career-high No. 79, then I injured my left foot. This year, I had an operation on my right foot. Now I travel with my physiotherapist to keep my fitness level up,” he said.
The 6'2” Munich native will finish 2017 at No. 60 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. He started the season at No. 189.
Damir Dzumhur – St. Petersburg [First-Time Winner Spotlight]
Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia-Herzegovina learned a crucial lesson from his first ATP World Tour final, when he fell to Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut at the Winston-Salem Open in August: You're going to be nervous; it's an ATP World Tour final. But you have to battle through the nerves.
“In Winston-Salem I was a little bit more nervous. I was a little bit more tight than for the match against Fabio Fognini in St. Petersburg,” Dzumhur said. “I just knew that any of the finals are not easy to play. You are going to be nervous in the start. But as the match will go on, you'll get more relaxed and you'll have chances. So I used my chances in the second set and turned that match, and definitely the first final helped me a lot to win this final.”
The 25-year-old Dzumhur later won his second ATP World Tour title, also indoors and in Russia, beating Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 to win the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Dzumhur will finish 2017 at a career-high year-end Emirates ATP Ranking of No. 30.
The 2018 season is still two weeks away, yet a pair of #NextGenATP stars are already carrying significant momentum into their new campaigns. Alex de Minaur and Soon-woo Kwon continue to make great strides in their push towards the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, with both securing main draw wild cards at the Australian Open.
On Sunday, 18-year-old De Minaur, the highest-ranked Aussie teen, won the Australian Open Wild Card Play-off with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-1 victory over Alex Bolt. The World No. 208 will make his second straight appearance at his home Grand Slam, after reaching the second round on debut in 2017.
"I feel like I thoroughly deserve this one – that’s what happens when you are actually playing for one," De Minaur said following the match. "I couldn’t be happier with my level and I can't wait for the Australian summer to come.
"I think I’ve still got a lot to get better at. But this week my level was great throughout. I didn’t think I dropped my concentration at all."
In January, De Minaur crashed onto the scene with a thrilling five-set upset of Gerald Melzer in his debut Down Under. And the former junior No. 2 would later crack the Top 200 for the first time after finishing runner-up at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Segovia, Spain, in August.
Kwon, meanwhile, will make his tour-level debut after winning the Asia-Pacific Wild Card Play-off. The 20-year-old Korean did not drop a set throughout the competition, sealing his place in the first Grand Slam of the year with a 6-1, 6-1 win over China's Zhe Li. The play-off exclusively features players from the Asia-Pacific region.
It has been an impressive conclusion to 2017 for #NextGenATP Koreans, following Hyeon Chung's victory at the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan last month. Kwon will look to build on a career-high of No. 168 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after posting a 27-17 record on the ATP Challenger Tour this year. He reached his first finals in Yokohama (l. to Sugita) and Seoul (l. to Fabbiano).
The 2018 Australian Open begins on 15 January.