Best of 2017: First-Time Winners: Muller, Harrison, Coric, Sugita
ATP World Tour Season In Review: First-Time Winners
Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com pays tribute to the first-time winners of the 2017 season. In part one of our two-part series, we look at the year's first four first-time winners.
It was one of the warmest moments of the 2017 ATP World Tour season. A hard-working and well-liked veteran, with his wife and two young sons in the stands, crying after a career triumph he thought might never come.
Gilles Muller had lost his first five ATP World Tour finals. In 2016, the left-hander held three championship points against Ivo Karlovic at the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open in Newport, but lost them all. The 33-year-old from Luxembourg wondered if he would ever win a title.
Then he did. After beating defending champion Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the semi-finals, Muller dismissed Brit Daniel Evans 7-6(5), 6-2 to win the Sydney International in January. All-time great Rod Laver presented him with the trophy on court.
“Everything that happened tonight was like in a movie. Rod Laver there, standing on centre court with the trophy, my kids in the stands, can't ask for more,” Muller said. “I’ve been waiting for this a long time. I’ve lost five finals before, so my biggest dream and goal was to win a title. Finally it’s here, so it’s great. It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders now.”
The 2017 season would only get better for the left-hander. Muller reached his career-high Emirates ATP Ranking of No. 21 in July after he made his first Grand Slam quarter-final by beating Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon fourth round. Muller also reached two more finals, falling in the Millenium Estoril Open (l. to Carreno Busta) before winning the Ricoh Open in 's-Hertogenbosch (d. Mahut).
Ryan Harrison's first ATP World Tour title came during a homecoming of sorts. The American grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana, and the closest ATP tournament when he was a kid was the Memphis Open. Harrison envisioned himself hoisting the trophy at The Racquet Club of Memphis one day.
During his first ATP World Tour final, Harrison became the second first-time winner of 2017, saving 12 break points to beat Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1, 6-4 in just 76 minutes.
“This is like a hometown event for me,” Harrison said. “I looked at the board and the last American that won it was Andy Roddick. Then I saw all the other guys that won here and it's just an incredible moment.”
The title pushed Harrison back into the Top 50 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, and the right-hander would have even more success in singles and doubles in 2017. He reached the BB&T Atlanta Open final (l. to Isner). In doubles, Harrison and New Zealand's Michael Venus won the Roland Garros title and reached the semi-finals of the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals.
Talk about coming through in the big moments. #NextGenATP Croatian Borna Coric was down five championship points against German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the Grand Prix Hassan II final but saved them all to earn his maiden title. Coric had fallen in his first two finals, the 2016 Grand Prix Hassan II (l. to Delbonis) and the 2016 Aircel Chennai Open (l. to Wawrinka).
“I would say that's my biggest comeback, I've never saved five match points,” Coric said. “Especially in such an important match, I served very well in the big points. It's an awesome feeling. I didn't know what to expect when I came here and I wasn't in the best shape. But I've been working very hard the past three or four months and now it's paying off.”
Coric earned big wins later in the season as well, including an upset of World No. 1 Andy Murray at the Mutua Madrid Open. The Croatian finished his year by making the semi-finals of the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
In February, Japan's Yuichi Sugita was No. 134 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. On 1 July, he was the champion of the inaugural Antalya Open in Turkey. Sugita climbed into the Top 50 of the Emirates ATP Rankings with his first title, beating Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 7-6(4).
“I'm really happy to be the first champion in Antalya,” Sugita said. “This is the most emotional moment of my career. I've won many Futures and Challenger titles, but never at a big tournament like this. It's just amazing. I can't believe it.”
The next week, Sugita checked off another career first, earning his maiden Grand Slam match victory at Wimbledon. Sugita would also reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. He will finish 2017 at No. 40, a career-high year-end Emirates ATP Ranking for the 29-year-old.
“Many players are having their good results after 28 or even 30,” Sugita said. “Actually I'm not so surprised about this, because tennis takes more time to reach your top level. I kept trying and I'm going to keep going.”