Challenger Q&A: Paul Edges Kokkinakis In Marathon Tiburon Final
The rise of Tommy Paul continues. Exactly one year ago, the American was sitting outside the Top 300 of the ATP Rankings, fighting to find his form. On Monday, he will be the new World No. 81 after lifting the trophy in Tiburon.
Paul survived an instant classic against Thanasi Kokkinakis in Sunday's final. The 22-year-old triumphed 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-4 in two hours and 46 minutes, converting five of 12 break chances.
With the wind howling across the Peninsula Club throughout the day, both players were forced to make plenty of adjustments. They would manage the conditions well, blasting winners off both wings and delighting the packed crowd in the San Francisco suburb. And despite relinquishing a set and a break lead, Paul came up clutch in the critical moments, eventually breaking to love for the title.
The North Carolina native made his Top 100 debut earlier this month with a title in New Haven and he would continue his ascent with a third crown of the year. He also celebrated a clay-court victory in Sarasota in April.
Paul is undoubtedly one of the top performers on the Challenger circuit this year, boasting a 27-4 record. That impressive .870 win percentage is good for third among tour leaders.
The American spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following the victory in Tiburon...
Tommy, congratulations. Your third Challenger title of 2019. It was a crazy match with that wind. How were the both of you making adjustments through that match?
It was definitely a big factor in the match. The first set and a half, because of the wind, I don't think either of us felt like we were playing well at all. For me, it just made serving a lot harder. Making your first serve and then doing something with it, was incredibly hard today. You have to toss really low, because the wind will take it if you throw it up. But when you're hitting good serves with a low toss, the trajectory doesn't work. That was the biggest thing for me.
Midway through the second, I picked up my level. And after he saw that, he really picked up his own level. I tried to even that out in the tie-break, in case we went to a third set, to let him know that I'm there for a decider. The wind actually died down in the third and we played some really good tennis then.
I don't know if you win that match a couple years ago.
I definitely know that I wouldn't have won that match a couple years ago.
But the fact that you got that first title in Charlottesville just a year ago, has that changed the way you approach finals now?
I took a different approach in Charlottesville last year. I have many friends that go to the University of Virginia, but I was staying by myself during the tournament and was in a hotel without other players. It was a boring week, but it worked for me. No distractions and just bouncing between the courts and the hotel. I've kind of done the same thing here in Tiburon. Just relaxing and not going out. It's working for me.
You're sitting here sipping a beer after a long week and you mentioned you've been enjoying the red wine during the tournament. The pressure doesn't seem to be getting to you anymore and it's freeing you up to just relax on the court.
I feel like once you get to the end of the year, everyone copes with it in different ways. Some people want to get more professional and do more in the gym. For me, that would just wear me out. I'm still going to the gym and doing everything I need to, but luckily I've been last match of the day all week. When I wake up, I was doing the right things for a few hours before my match and then get ready. That's what works for me. I don't see why not.
2019 Challenger Title Leaders
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How do you structure the rest of the year now? With this title in the books, you essentially defended the points from Charlottesville.
That's something I need to have a conversation with my coach about. And my trainer. Just to see how my body is holding up. I've been feeling the back of my shoulder a bit this week. It's just tight playing in the cold weather.
I'm definitely going to play the ATPs in Stockholm and Vienna. I'll play the qualies there for sure. I want to stop the year early and take a lot of time off.