Despite losing in February in a tournament final to Rafa Nadal, Alexandr Dolgopolov prevailed in Indian Wells against Nadal after winning a third set tiebreak 7-5.
The 25 year old Ukrainian went into the meeting 0-5 against Nadal but played extremely well this time around, particularly in big moments, and earned one of his most impressive victories of his career.
Dolgopolov won the first set 6-3 and lost 3-6 in the second. He got up 5-2 in the third but it seemed as if Nadal was going to end up pulling it out after he rattled off 3 straight games to tie it up at 5-5. The 31st ranked player in the world responded to the pressure and fought off Nadal’s momentum to get to and win the third set tiebreaker 7-5.
His previous match against Nadal clearly helped his confidence going into this match. Dolgopolov played Nadal close, losing in straights, but after a 2nd set tiebreak. In addition, that match was Nadal’s to lose the whole time with it being on clay.
Dolgopolov historically is better on hard courts than clay and is also undefeated this season after winning the first set. It’s important for a young player like him to get confidence early in a match against a proven veteran and to not waver when things start to get away from him.
It is also important to prepare at an elite level, something Dolgopolov is improving at doing. He has switched back to being coached by his father, who knows his semi-unorthodox game best and practiced against a lefty thoroughly before this match with Nadal.
The dynamic of the volatile situation in his home country is also interesting to take note of. Dolgopolov put out a video with other pros Djokovic, Nadal, Monfils and Murray addressing the situation while calling for peace there. It’s speculative of course, and professional athletes are generally so focused in the moment, but it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t weigh on his mind at some point and perhaps provide a bit of extra energy and motivation. He has been playing very well in the past few tournaments he has played in.
Hopefully he can use this victory to propel himself to a very successful season. He needs to make sure that he doesn’t get too happy about this victory or he may falter against the 13th seeded Fabio Fognini, who is himself coming off a three set victory against Gael Monfils. He may also have to get through a combination of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer just to get to the finals where Novak Djokovic may be awaiting him.