Tommy Paul: Desert Dangerman
It’s taken a champion to beat Tommy Paul in his past two ATP Tour events. The in-form American could not get past Rafael Nadal or Cameron Norrie in Acapulco and Delray Beach — but neither could anyone else, as both men went on to claim the title.
Paul is a champion himself, having won his first tour-level title in Stockholm at the close of 2021. But in the build-up to the November ATP 250 event, he wasn’t even sure he’d make the trip to Sweden.
Twelve spots out of the main draw just three days before the event, as he recalled, Paul was prepared to end his season after qualifying and earning a first-round win at the Rolex Paris Masters. Another slog through qualifying was not an appealing way to conclude a gruelling year.
But he ended up making the main-draw cutoff, beating Taylor Fritz, Andy Murray, Frances Tiafoe and Denis Shapovalov to claim the title after going three sets in each of the last three rounds.
“I ended up getting in and started playing better and better as the week went on,” he told ATPTour.com. “It was kind of weird, finishing the year with a win. Maybe two players do that every year. So it was really cool to finish the year with the win.”
The 24-year-old used that victory as fuel for an intense offseason during which he focused on improving his serve and finishing off more points at net.
“It could have gone two ways,” he said. “It could have motivated me in the offseason or it could have made me feel satisfied. I think I did a really good job of staying very motivated and using it to help me know what I could do this year.”
Tommy Paul can ball y'all 😱— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 25, 2022
Great improv from @TommyPaul1 at #AMT2022 pic.twitter.com/EQP0LFZnEU
Paul ended the ’21 season at a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 43, and now enters the BNP Paribas Open at a new high of No. 39. But whether that ranking is rising or falling, he does not let it affect his confidence.
“Whether I’m 80 in the world or 40 in the world, I like to think of myself as one of the better players,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say the number next to my name adds any value to myself.”
Following a Round-of-16 run in his Indian Wells main-draw debut in October, Paul returns with a unique perspective on the desert conditions after helping the U.S. to a Davis Cup Qualifier sweep of Colombia in the altitude of Reno.
“Always coming into Indian Wells, you feel like the ball flies because of the desert air," explained. "But coming from altitude, it’s crazy. I come to Indian Wells and I’m feeling like the ball isn’t moving.”
He'll have until Friday afternoon to get fully acclimatised, when he's set to face Mikhail Kukushkin in the opening round for the right to challenge third seed Alexander Zverev.
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