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Tribute: Alexandr Dolgopolov retires from professional tennis

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In sand, rocks and surf, Alexandr Dolgopolov put in the tough pre-season yards, developing his core strength to the height of his powers. There were no dumbbells or a gym in sight, just sand and sea dunes for fitness, rocks for strength work, and a rented house to retreat to Horseshoe Bay.

Nine years ago, South Australian media all came to Port Elliot, south of Adelaide, to witness the accusation of Jack Reader, who had gone from outside the Top 300 to the Top 20 within three years. A Fox sportsThe TV crew filmed their every move one December afternoon, but when the director said cut, Reader shouted mischievously, “’Sascha, we want you to run along the rocks again’ … ‘Hey Sascha, we want you to come up the stairs again…’ ”

It was a ruse, and the team pretended to film Dolgopolov’s every move. “I got an extra 30 minutes from him,” Reader told ATPTour.com last week. “If they had stopped, he wouldn’t have. I swindled him. I only told him the truth yesterday. He thought they had filmed the whole time … I said, ‘They didn’t, but I didn’t want to tell you.’

It was an episode the 32-year-old, who is retiring from a sport today after failing to overcome a right wrist injury suffered in May 2018, would have angered – but secretly enjoyed – had he known how to the time. Because Dolgopolov has always competed with a sense of fun, to entertain fans and, together with Reader, a full-time father and travel companion from 2008 to 2012, the duo experienced some of their greatest moments: a quarterfinal race. the 2011 Australian Open finals, a career-high No. 13 in the FedEx ATP rankings a year later, and plenty of high-jinx off the field.

“Hope I was fun to watch,” Dolgopolov told ATPTour.com. “I have never broken tennis records, but I hope I have played entertaining tennis for the fans. My wrist injury happened in Australia [three years ago] after badly knocking a comeback in practice. I felt pain, but nothing serious. I reached the third round of the Australian Open and returned to Europe, but never realized that would end my career. I tried for a few years, had two surgeries and it still hurts.

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Photo credit: Robert Prezioso / Getty Images

Always believed that he first bought a racket when he was three years old, Dolgopolov recently discovered, thanks to his mother, Elena, by digitizing old video footage, that he actually had it. made a day after his first birthday. , when his father, Oleksandr Dolgopolov Sr., coached former world No.4 Andrei Medvedev. So by the time the ponytailed Ukrainian took his first steps as a touring player, he was already a seasoned traveler. Reader, who first saw a 16-year-old Dolgopolov beat his Australian charge at an ITF Futures event in Cremona, Italy, recalls: “He was second to none, what he did with the ball and his racquet head was amazing. I didn’t know for his head if he was having a hard time, but his athleticism and his game were second to none.

Little baffled the 5’11 ”right-hander, when his mind was set. Dolgopolov made a significant breakthrough for the first time at Melbourne Park in 2011, with straight set wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and world No.4 Robin Soderling en route to his first Grand Slam quarter-final, which s’ is finished at the hands of Andy Murray. “I needed to be in a good mood to play my best tennis,” admitted Dolgopolov, who finished in the Top 70 for eight consecutive seasons (2010-2017). “It was that simple. Sometimes I was tired or in a bad mood and I really needed to want to compete. I needed to be healthy. If I wanted to compete, I always had to good results at the start of the year. It was the will to fight and compete, and sometimes that just didn’t happen. It was a feeling.

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Dolgopolov loved solving problems and won three UKTN singles titles in nine finals, including the 2011 Plava Laguna Croatian Open (d. Cilic), when his rapping skills entertained fans off the pitch. There were other trophies at the 2012 Citi Open in Washington, DC (d. Haas), when he “initially found it impossible to control tennis balls in practice”; and later, when he “played great tennis” two and a half years after surgery on his right knee on a ruptured meniscus, at the Argentina Open 2017 in Buenos Aires (d. Nishikori).

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Photo credit: Bradley Kanaris / Getty Images

Reader believes Dolgopolov could have climbed higher than his career high of No.13 on January 16, 2012, but it was not. “We once had a conversation that killed me,” Reader said. “’You’re number 13 with raw talent and advice, but if you treat your body and your diet better, we can go further,” I said. Sascha replied, “So do I have to work harder Jack?” And that was a kick in the n ***. If he had started doing things like the big boys do, he might have progressed.

“We had a lot of fun together, including a memorable road trip from Kiev to Moscow and St. Petersburg in his Subaru, which gave rise to problems. If he was having a good time and having fun, then he would play well. If he went onto the court with problems, he couldn’t play. With Sascha and I, I think I made her smile. I gave him a long leash and he started to relax. He sometimes looked at me with a smile in games. His hand-eye coordination was ridiculous.

Reader continues to stay in regular contact with Dolgopolov, long after their five-season partnership ended in October 2012. There were two semi-finals of the ATP Masters 1000 later – at the BNP Paribas Open 2014 in Indian Wells, when Dolgopolov defeated then world No.1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) in the third round, and, as a qualifier, at the 2015 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, where the Ukrainian may have suffered his hardest defeat. . “I had a really good chance against Novak as I led by one set and was 3/0 ahead in the second set tie-break and 5/4 on serve,” said Dolgopolov, who recorded 10 career Top 10 wins. . “I had every chance that day, but I didn’t win the game.”

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Photo: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Dolgopolov also won his only doubles title at Indian Wells in 2011 with Xavier Malisse, when they won all five of the tie-breaker games against a who’s who of Top 10 talent and outstanding doubles teams. “It was super funny because we got in 10 minutes before the connection on site closed,” Dolgopolov said. “We won five absolutely incredible matches. The draw was tough and we beat Roger [Federer] and Stan [Wawrinka] In the finale. “

When he faced Djokovic on May 14, 2018 at Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Dolgopolov had no idea it would be his last professional match. He underwent right wrist surgery three months later and began to recover. Another surgery followed …

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Today, having spent his entire life in tennis, do not expect Dolgopolov to return to the sport anytime soon. The Ukrainian will continue to indulge his love for cars – he currently has a Nissan GT-R for racing and a Porsche Cayenne for everyday driving – but he expects to return to Kiev soon, to be closer to his family. “I’m not going to come back to the sport for the next five or ten years,” Dolgopolov said. “I need to get away from the tennis balls. I took a racket for the first time when I barely walked. I now need some free time from sports. At the moment, I think I will pursue a career in business. “

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