Challenger #NextGenATP First-Time Winner: Jesper De Jong
21-year-old speaks to ATPTour.com after winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Almaty
Jesper De Jong won't forget this week anytime soon.
Not only did the 21-year-old win his first ATP Challenger Tour title, but he was nearly untouchable in doing so. De Jong did not drop a set in seven matches in Almaty, Kazakhstan, sprinting through qualifying and dominating the rest of the way.
The Dutchman lifted the trophy at the Beeline Challenger 80 following a ruthless 6-1, 6-2 victory over Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera on Sunday. He needed just 60 minutes to dismiss his Chilean opponent and secure his maiden moment.
With the win, De Jong becomes the youngest player from The Netherlands to claim a Challenger crown since Thiemo de Bakker in 2009. The Haarlem native, who turned 21 just three weeks ago, is among those leading the charge for the European nation this year. Projected to rise to a career-high No. 260 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, he will crack the Top 300 for the first time on Monday.
Mentored by former doubles No. 1 Paul Haarhuis and longtime Dutch coach Raymond Knaap, De Jong has seen his game develop and mature greatly in 2021. Standing at 5'11", while he doesn't possess an overwhelming serve and mammoth forehand, it's his drive and attacking mentality that have him surging up the FedEx ATP Rankings. An agile mover and aggressive competitor, the Dutchman is announcing his arrival.
De Jong is the 15th #NextGenATP (born in 2000 or later) champion of the year on the ATP Challenger Tour. He is projected to rise more than 50 spots to the Top 20 in the ATP Race To Milan.
The 21-year-old spoke to ATPTour.com following his victory in Almaty...
Jesper, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. How does it feel? What are your emotions?
I'm really happy with this win. I don't know what to say. For the first five minutes I was thinking, 'I just won a Challenger'. Before the week, I was happy just qualifying for the main draw and now this is just incredible. It's the greatest moment of my career. I played some big matches and I'm really happy.
It was an amazing tournament for you, winning seven matches as a qualifier. How do you explain what you achieved this week?
Playing seven matches in one week is always tough, but going into the main draw it's a huge confidence boost. Especially for me, because I didn't play a lot of Challenger matches this year. I think it gave me a lot of confidence and in the first round I had a tough draw against the three seed [Kimmer Coppejans]. After seven matches I still feel fresh so I think it's a good sign. Next week I can hopefully keep going.
You are the youngest Dutch champion in 12 years, since Thiemo de Bakker in 2009. What is your reaction to that? And how do you hope to inspire other young players in your country?
It's a nice thing. I know Thiemo very well and admire what he's achieved in his career. I hope he's coming back. For the young players, I hope they work really hard to get here. Work hard, have a good team around you and believe in yourself. And don't take it too fast without enjoying the journey.
You already won three Challenger doubles titles this year. How did those victories help you to grow and develop your game?
I like playing doubles a lot and it's always nice to win titles, especially in Challengers. You can practise your serves, returns and volley game. Even if it's in doubles, you're winning matches and that's important. I'm really happy to add a singles title to the three in doubles.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career thus far?
My two coaches at the moment. Raymond Knaap and Paul Haarhuis. I was mentally down at the beginning of the first week in Almaty. But I practised really well with Raymond and that helped me get confidence going into this week. My other coach, Paul Haarhuis, is a former No. 1 in doubles and he has also helped me a lot to get where I am today.
Outside of tennis, what is your biggest passion in life?
I'm a big football fan. I always love to watch football. When I was younger I played a lot as well, but then I had to make the choice between tennis and football. I think I made the right decision.
Speaking of football, the most important question... Will Holland win the Euros?
I think they will. We already won two matches and we have a really good team with Frenkie de Jong leading us. I can't wait to watch the rest of the matches and I think we will win the cup.