Tennis gets another tale from Tim van Reithoven, perhaps the craziest one yet

Wimbledon, England. In recent years, there have been many unexpected stories in tennis. Last September, a qualifying tournament winner named Emma Raducanou won the US Open. This sport is as deep as ever.

But even by that standard, what Tim van Reithoven of the Netherlands has accomplished over the past month doesn’t just border on the absurd, it’s the definition of absurd. And the absurdity continued on Friday when van Reithoven, ranked 205th in the world less than a month ago, played himself in the Final 16 showdown with top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Ah, but that’s just the beginning, because van Reithoven’s journey is even more ridiculous.

On June 6, van Reithoven, an injury-prone 25-year-old, and Homer Simpson the same amount won in the main draw of the ATP Tour tournaments. This would be null. However, unlike Simpson, van Rijthoven received a wild card for the Libema Open, a low-level grass court tournament in the Netherlands.

On June 7, he recorded his first win on the main draw tour. He racked up four more wins over the next five days, including a loss to the top three seeds in the tournament – Taylor Fritz in 14th, Felix Auger-Aliassime in 9th, and to top it off, in the final, he ripped the current world off. no. 1, Daniil Medvedev.

He has since won three more matches, all at Wimbledon, his first Grand Slam. He beat two seeded players. He only lost one set in a tiebreak. Some players may need a year to win half a dozen ATP Tour matches. Van Reithoven did it in four weeks.

“From the outside it obviously looks like a fairy tale,” he said on Friday after beating No. 1.22 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Van Reithoven started just after 11am. He played as if his girlfriend was waiting to meet him for lunch and finished off Basilashvili in 102 minutes.

As Basilashvili’s last shot bounced off, van Reithoven calmly raised his hands and walked over to the net to shake hands. He briefly patted the crowd with his racket, packed his bag and left. Just another day at the office.

“Very hard to explain,” said his coach Igor Siisling, who was still competing himself last year and only started working with van Rijthoven six months ago. “He had big eyes on our first day here, but now he’s acting like he’s been here for 10 years.”

Latecomers with three-figure ratings have been a surprise at Grand Slams of late. Van Reithoven’s compatriot Botitsch van de Zandschulp was in 117th place ahead of reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open last year. Aslan Karatsev of Russia has been in the tennis wilderness for many years and finished 114th ahead of his semi-final run at the 2021 Australian Open.

“All it takes is a couple of wins against a big player and then your confidence goes up and you start thinking you’re as good as these guys,” said Mark Lucero, who coaches Steve Johnson, a US pro veteran. . now ranked No. 1. 93.

Grass also helps, said David Witt, a longtime trainer. Players rarely practice on it, and they compete on it for only one month of the year, making it somewhat of an equalizer for those who are comfortable on the surface when they play against more established pros who may not be.

Diluted Draw I miss forbidden Russiansincluding Medvedev, also does not hurt.

However, van de Zandshulp and Karatsev won top-level tour matches before becoming popular on the big stage. Until the beginning of June, van Reithoven did not win in the main draw of the ATP Tour. How does this happen?

As a teenager, he was promising enough to train at the IMG Academy in Florida in 2015 and said he battled injuries for three years, both tennis and bad luck. He had undergone wrist surgery and struggled with inflammation of the tendons on the inside or medial side of his elbow.

“They call it golfer’s elbow, but I got it playing tennis,” he said Friday. (Tennis elbow is inflammation of the tendons on the outside or side.)

Also, completely unrelated to the elbow problem, he developed a thrombosis of the arteries in his arm, causing his fingertips to become cold and numb. I had to have surgery to remove the clots.

According to him, the biggest problem was not physically, but psychologically. He is quite big (6’2″, 195 pounds), strong and fast enough, but when he missed easy shots or made bad decisions, he became sullen and embarrassed. During matches, he obsessed over what other people thought of his level of play, suggesting that he was not very good.

Earlier this year, frustrated that his chances for a pro career might be slipping away, he had an epiphany.

“I decided that I would accept my mistakes, grow up and become an adult,” he said, heading for the first of more than a dozen TV interviews that have become a new part of his schedule. “I said to myself, ‘I won’t be negative anymore. I will tell you that this is not a day shift that you do. This is something that needs to be worked on every day.”

He also began training with Siisling, who works for the Dutch Tennis Federation, who continued to support van Rijthoven in his struggles. Siisling told him that he needed to stop playing defensively and use his strength to play more aggressively and move forward on the court.

“You have to attack with force, otherwise it will be wasted,” Siisling said. Siisling also urged van Reithoven, who likes to work hard but not for very long, to spend more time on the practice court. “I don’t think you can get to the top without working very hard,” he said.

On Sunday, the undefeated van Reithoven’s status will be put to the test this spring against Djokovic, the six-time national singles champion and World Cup winner. last three Wimbledon titles. Djokovic said he had watched some of van Reithoven’s matches in recent days in anticipation of their showdown, which will likely take place on Center Court in an atmosphere unlike anything van Reithoven has experienced.

Djokovic scout report: Van Reithoven is good for grass, he said. “Big serve, one-handed backhand makes good use of the sweep. He is a versatile player. He can play fast; he can also stay in the draw and go into the draw.”

Djokovic has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, but van Reithoven said he’ll enter the court with the same mindset as he does all year, whether it’s in those backwater Candidates tournaments or over the past month on the ATP Tour. He believes he can win.

“Basically, in every match I think I am the best player,” he said, “although that may not always be the case.”