WIMBLEDON, England — Tennis has had its share of come-out-of-nowhere stories lately. A qualifier named Emma Raducanu won the U.S. Open last September. The game is as deep because it has ever been.
But even by those standards, what Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands has achieved throughout the last month does not only border on the absurd — it’s the definition of absurd. And the ludicrousness continued on Friday as van Rijthoven, the 205th-ranked player on the earth lower than a month ago, played himself right into a final-16 showdown with the top-seeded Novak Djokovic.
Ah, but that’s only the start, because van Rijthoven’s journey is much more ridiculous than that.
On June 6, van Rijthoven, an injury-prone 25-year-old, and Homer Simpson had the identical variety of wins within the major draw of ATP Tour events. That may be zero. Unlike Simpson, though, van Rijthoven received a wild-card entry into the Libema Open, a low-level grass-court tournament within the Netherlands.
On June 7, he recorded his first main-draw tour win. Through the next five days, he reeled off 4 more wins, including upsets of the highest three seeds within the tournament — the fourteenth-ranked Taylor Fritz, the Ninth-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime, and to cap it off within the finals, he drubbed the present world No. 1, Daniil Medvedev.
He has since won three more matches, all at Wimbledon, his first Grand Slam tournament. He has beaten two seeded players. He has dropped only one set, in a tiebreaker. Some players can take a yr to win a half-dozen matches on the ATP Tour. Van Rijthoven has done it in 4 weeks.
“From the skin, it obviously looks like a fairy tale,” he said Friday after he beat the No. 22 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Van Rijthoven began just after 11 a.m. He played like someone with a girlfriend waiting to fulfill him for lunch, ending Basilashvili off in 102 minutes.
When Basilashvili’s last shot sailed out, van Rijthoven calmly raised his arms and strolled to the online to shake hands. He briefly clapped his racket to the group, packed his bag and left. Just one other day on the office.
“Very difficult to elucidate,” said his coach, Igor Sijsling, who was still playing tournaments himself last yr and only began working with van Rijthoven six months ago. “Our first day here, he had big eyes, but now he’s acting like he’s been here 10 years already.”
Late bloomers with triple-digit rankings have had some eyebrow-raising runs at Grand Slam tournaments of late. Van Rijthoven’s countryman Botic van de Zandschulp was ranked 117th before his run to the quarterfinals on the U.S. Open last yr. Aslan Karatsev of Russia had been within the tennis wilderness for years and was ranked 114th ahead of his semifinal run on the 2021 Australian Open.
“All it takes is a few wins against a giant player, after which your confidence goes up and also you start pondering you’re nearly as good as these guys,” said Marc Lucero, who coaches Steve Johnson, the veteran pro from america now ranked No. 93.
The grass also helps, said David Witt, a longtime coach. Players rarely practice on it, they usually compete on it for only one month every year, making it something of an equalizer for individuals who are comfortable with the surface once they play against more established professionals who will not be.
A watered-down draw missing the barred Russians, including Medvedev, doesn’t hurt either.
Still, van de Zandschulp and Karatsev had won top-level tour matches before getting hot on the massive stage. Until early June, van Rijthoven was winless in ATP Tour main-draw matches. How is that this happening?
He was promising enough as a teen to coach on the IMG Academy in Florida in 2015 and said he has struggled with injuries, some tennis-related and one which was just bad luck, for 3 years. He had surgery on his wrist and battled inflammation of the tendons on the inner, 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 outer, or lateral, side.)
Also, completely unrelated to his elbow problem, he developed thrombosis within the arteries of his arm, which caused the information of his fingers to grow to be cold and numb. He needed to have surgery to remove the blood clots.
The most important problem, he said, was not physical but mental. He’s plenty big (6-foot-2, 195 kilos) and powerful and fast enough, but when he missed easy shots or made bad decisions he became sullen and embarrassed. He would obsess during matches about what other people were interested by his level of play, assuming it was not good.
Earlier this yr, frustrated that his probability at an expert profession may be slipping away, he had an epiphany.
“I made a decision I used to be going to just accept my mistakes and grow up and grow to be an adult,” he said as he walked to the primary of greater than a dozen television interviews, a recent a part of his schedule. “I told myself, ‘I’m not going to be negative anymore.’ I’ll inform you that isn’t a one-day shift that you simply make. It’s something you might have to work on daily.”
He has also began training with Sijsling, who works for the Dutch tennis federation, which had continued to support van Rijthoven through his struggles. Sijsling told him that he needed to stop playing defensively and use his power to play more aggressively and push forward into the court.
“You’ve got to attack with power or else it’s wasted,” Sijsling said. Sijsling has also encouraged van Rijthoven, who likes to work intensely but not for very long, to place in additional time on the practice court. “I don’t think you may get to the highest without working very hard,” he said.
On Sunday, van Rijthoven’s undefeated status this spring will get its stiffest test against Djokovic, the six-time singles champion here and winner of the last three Wimbledon titles. Djokovic said he watched a few of van Rijthoven’s matches in recent days in anticipation of their showdown, which is able to most certainly happen on Centre Court, an environment unlike anything van Rijthoven has experienced.
Djokovic’s scouting report: van Rijthoven is well suited to the grass, he said. “Big serve, one-handed backhand, uses the slice well. He’s an all-around player. He can play fast; he also can stay within the rally and are available to the online.”
Djokovic has 20 Grand Slam singles titles, but van Rijthoven said he would walk onto the court with the identical thought he has tried to have all yr, whether in those backwater challenger tournaments or throughout the past month on the ATP Tour. He’ll imagine he can win.
“It’s principally going into every match pondering I’m the higher player,” he said, “despite the fact that it’s perhaps not at all times the case.”