Alexandr Dolgopolov is as unpredictable off the court as he is on it. When the 23-year-old Ukrainian isn’t whipping cross-court forehands or confusing opponents with his serve, his favorite activity is racing cars.
“It’s a bit dangerous, especially when the speeds go over 200 miles [per hour],” he said with a smile. “I don’t think about the percentage. I like to do it my way and that’s how I do it.”
That’s certainly how he did it Sunday night at Rock Creek Park. While dark storm clouds and sheets of rain delayed the Citi Open men’s singles final for 2 hours and 33 minutes, they couldn’t keep Dolgopolov from capturing his biggest tour title to date.
The second-seeded Dolgopolov won just his second Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) title Sunday by overpowering No. 4 seed Tommy Haas, 6-7, 6-4, 6-1. Dolgopolov’s deceptive serve and aggressive forehand have given opponents fits all week, and they had a similar effect on Haas as well.
“It’s a part of me, like my personality,” Dolgopolov said of his unorthodox style. “I like risking in life, so I do that on the court and I like to play tennis like that.”
Dolgopolov’s game began to evolve earlier this summer. Strong, conservative shots were no longer helping him, so he adopted a less predictable style of play. He now sets out “to miss shots and make winners” and keep his opponents guessing.
According to Haas, it worked.
“You have to be ready for all sorts of things,” the 34-year-old German-American said. “He has good firepower and he keeps the ball very flat, and he’s a shot-maker. He goes for his stuff.”
Neither finalist had lost a set all week prior to the final, but streaks like that are made to be broken. Haas and Dolgopolov traded service games throughout the first set until the Ukrainian found a breakthrough at the 3-3 mark. He hit a scathing cross-court forehand while Haas was at the net and seized a quick lead.
But it was in the second set that the usually stoic Haas clearly began to lose control. He threw his racquet on the ground, stomped his feet and jawed with the chair umpire. He cracked and lost the second set. The third was over before it even began.
“I could sense that he was giving away more free points than he did the first set and throughout the tournament,” Dolgopolov said. “I think it was a part of him, a part of it being the final, and a part of my game.”
The weather was at least partially at fault. Play was suspended twice in Sunday’s match due to inclement weather, and the second delay was over 2 1/2 hours long. Dolgopolov said he sat in the locker room, ate some pasta and tried not to think about the match.
But for the 34-year-old Haas, who missed 15 months with various injuries in 2010 and 2011, the rain certainly took a toll. Haas left the court with a 6-5 lead in the first set but looked like a completely different player after he returned.
“Rain delays are never fun,” he said. “You know that’s part of the game. That’s part of life, and you try to make the best of it and it’s really no excuse because my opponent has to deal with the same thing.”
The final was an Olympic consolation match of sorts, as both Dolgopolov and Haas were disappointed to miss the 2012 London Games. Haas has been openly critical of the German Olympic Committee and felt he deserved an Olympic spot. With his No. 36 world ranking, he likely would have secured one. The committee, however, ruled that it would not nominate any player outside the top-24 for the Olympics. Haas, 2000 silver-medal winner and all, was left out.
Dolgopolov also was not eligible for Olympic competition because he has failed to represent Ukraine in the Davis Cup for five years. He downplayed his absence throughout the week, only saying that he was concentrated on playing good tennis — something he certainly did Sunday night.
“I’m really happy, especially when you win a match that’s really tight, up and down, the rain breaks, I’m really happy with myself that I stayed concentrated and was in the match all three sets,” Dolgopolov said.
In a match between consistency and risk, steadiness and chaos, it was the more unpredictable Dolgopolov that came out on top. Over six hours after the match’s slated start time, he sat down at the post-match press conference and was asked what he would do to celebrate.
“Drink some beer,” he said with a smile.