It was business as usual for Tallon Griekspoor. As the Dutchman crossed the finish line in Napoli on Sunday, claiming his sixth ATP Challenger Tour title of the year, a subtle fist pump to his coach Raemon Sluiter was all the moment needed.
A record-tying six trophies guaranteed the 25-year-old the milestone he had been dreaming of as a kid: his Top 100 breakthrough in the FedEx ATP Rankings. But you wouldn’t know it by watching Griekspoor’s reaction. Playing the best tennis of his young career, the Dutchman was as confident and relaxed as an established veteran. As he secured his 15th consecutive match win and third trophy in three weeks, he admits that this is exactly where he expects to be.
“I’m really happy and really confident with how everything is going. I remember walking off the court on Sunday after the final and my coach looked at me and told me, ‘What the hell did you just do? How did you win three titles in a row?’,” Griekspoor exclaimed, smiling. “At that point, I realized how special it is.”
Channeling the calm demeanor of his countryman and Formula One superstar Max Verstappen, Griekspoor is finding his stride in 2021. He says he has looked to Verstappen, arguably the most popular athlete in Dutch sports, for inspiration as he has plotted his ascent this year. Aggressive from the baseline and dialed-in with every point, the Haarlem native has amassed a stunning haul of victories and trophies.
With his latest title on Sunday, Griekspoor became the fifth player in ATP Challenger Tour history to capture six crowns in a single season. He joined Benjamin Bonzi, who also achieved the feat this year, as well as Facundo Bagnis (2016), Juan Ignacio Chela (2001) and Younes El Aynaoui (1998). In addition, his 32-7 win-loss record (82.1) makes him one of just three players with a win percentage of 80 per cent or higher in 2021, along with Jenson Brooksby and Sebastian Baez.
Less than two months after battling Novak Djokovic under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, he has used the lessons learned from that experience in his return to the Challenger circuit. Griekspoor has not lost a match since. His reward: a shiny new spot in the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. The Dutchman is up to a career-high No. 89, joining US Open quarter-finalist Botic van de Zandschulp as players from Holland in the elite club.
Griekspoor spoke to ATPTour.com about his stunning season, the future of Dutch tennis, his family’s unwavering support, the battle with Djokovic in New York and his admiration for Verstappen…
Tallon, many congrats. You’re a Top 100 player. What are your emotions when you hear that?
It’s something you dream of as a kid. If you ask kids who are 12-13 years old, ‘What do you want? What is your dream’, probably most of them say that the first thing is getting to the Top 100. I also did that at that age. To get to that point is unbelievable and it’s even nicer to do it this way, with three titles in three weeks and my sixth of the year. I’m really happy and really confident with how everything is going.
You’ve fought for this moment for many years. Is it extra sweet knowing that you’ve earned this the hard way, battling through the lower levels since 2017?
That probably makes it even more sweeter. And to do it in a year with Covid and the frozen ranking, it’s even more amazing. I played really well the whole year, I’ve been fit and healthy, and have played well on all the surfaces. It’s really sweet to do it this way.
Six titles. Over 30 wins. What you’ve done this year is incredible. Have you had a moment to process what you’ve just accomplished and realize how truly impressive it is?
Yeah, it probably came to me the last few days. I remember walking off the court on Sunday after the final and my coach looked at me and told me, ‘What the hell did you just do? How did you win three titles in a row?’. At that point, I realized how special it is. It doesn’t happen too often, even though it happened twice this year. I think it’s unbelievable and I’m really proud of that achievement.
How do you explain it? What’s the difference between Tallon in 2019 and Tallon in 2021?
Probably being more and more consistent through the whole year. My body has felt really well, which probably wasn’t the case before. I’ve been playing every week this year, winning three weeks in a row, and before I couldn’t even play three weeks in a row. My body held up unbelievably. I was close to playing a fourth straight tournament this week. That’s probably the biggest win I got this year, to keep the body 100 per cent. The tennis has been great too. I have been serving really well and playing aggressive and defensive where I have to. It all came together and really paid off in the end.
It’s not easy. When you win a tournament and have to go back and play first and second round the next week on an outside court. But I’ve been so confident in my game that it hasn’t been a problem for me this year. I was even enjoying those matches as well. You know why you do it. It’s rewarding to get to this point. You know what you work for. It wasn’t really a struggle for me. Of course, it’s always nice to play the big matches on the big stadiums. I played Novak Djokovic on Arthur Ashe Stadium and then had to go back to Challengers, but he showed me where I had to improve and do better. I learned those lessons there.
I want to ask about your confidence in yourself this year. It seems like you are entering every tournament believing that you will lift the trophy, and that belief wasn’t truly there a couple years ago. How have you flipped that switch?
For sure. That’s true. I think I came to a point mentally and physically where I’m feeling so strong and nobody can beat me. Especially on the clay, if I’m confident, I’m doing so well and don’t even have to play my best tennis. Overall, just reaching a high level and I never really went under that level. I always got to a certain level and when I went to the weekend, I was playing the tennis I wanted. Maybe it’s also the crowds in the semis and finals, especially in Italy, coming out to enjoy the tennis. The longer the week gets, the better I feel. It never was like that for me.
Most Challenger Titles In A Single Season
|Juan Ignacio Chela
|Younes El Aynaoui
This year, the most recent players to crack the Top 100 have been you and Botic van de Zandschulp. Two Dutch guys. Give me an idea what this means for tennis in The Netherlands to have two new faces in the Top 100.
I think it’s refreshing for the whole of Dutch tennis. The men’s side has been struggling for a bit, the last few years. Of course we’ve had Robin Haase, Igor Sijsling and Thiemo de Bakker for so long, and they’ve done really well, but the last few years there wasn’t much. On the WTA side, we’ve had Kiki Bertens who made a huge impact on Dutch tennis. She retired pretty quick and all of a sudden there was no one. Now, I think it’s pretty nice for the players and for the whole of Dutch tennis that we stepped up pretty quick. Botic had an unbelievable run in New York and me having a great year, I hope it gives belief to the younger guys who are 14, 15, 16 years old, that they can do it as well. I hope it’s a big boost for Dutch tennis.
I know family is very important to you. Your dad introduced you to your passion of Motocross and your brothers introduced you to tennis and instilled that hard-working attitude. What has their reaction been to your success this year? And how important have they been in this journey?
It’s a big win for the whole family. My brothers put a lot of time and effort into tennis as well and made me the player I am today. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I always had two bigger brothers to practice with and get better. For them, they never made it to the Top 100. I think for them and the whole family, it’s just a big win. I’m happy I’m the first to do it, but I would have liked to see them there as well. When I was 14, I could always practice with stronger and bigger guys and to this day they are following me and my results. They can’t travel too much with me, but hopefully after Covid they can come with me somewhere on the tour. They have been unbelievably important for my whole career.
We have to talk about the US Open. You win your first Grand Slam match 7-5 in the fifth set and then you face Novak Djokovic, night session on Ashe. Describe that moment and that week. How much did that validate all the work you were putting in on the Challenger Tour leading up to that?
First of all, the win I got against Jan-Lennard Struff [in the first round] was already big. It was 7-5 in the fifth and I was two sets to one down. I was struggling a bit. You win the match and you shake his hand and realize you’re playing Novak two days later. In the end, it was a night session on Ashe and it was unbelievable. But it wasn’t too much fun. He was literally kicking my ass. I couldn’t play tennis at all. He showed me why he’s one of the best ever. You feel like you can’t get a point. You think that if you go forehand down the line it might work, but the next thing you know you’re running to your backhand. But it was a big win for me to be there. And all the hard work the last few years on the Challenger Tour and the ITFs gave me this reward to play one of the best players on Ashe. I enjoyed it a lot and the stadium and crowd were crazy. That was an unbelievable week. I think I learned my lesson from that match because I haven’t lost again after that. It shows you where you want to go and where you have to improve.
2021 Challenger Win Percentage Leaders
Where do you go from here? What are your expectations going into 2022?
Let’s see how far I can go in the Top 100. I don’t want to put a number, but just show myself that I can compete with the big players week in and week out. To be playing on the ATP Tour would be new and would be nice. I’m just looking forward to competing with them and I’ll see how far I can go with my ranking.
Last question for you. Can Max Verstappen win the Formula One championship this year?
100 per cent. And he’s going to do it. I’m 100 per cent sure of it. It’s going to be crazy and such a battle [with Lewis Hamilton]. I came back from New York, arrived on Sunday morning and went straight to the Formula One race [the Dutch Grand Prix] in Zandvoort. It’s 30 minutes from my home. I arrived at 8 in the morning in Amsterdam and went straight to the circuit to watch. I’m a really big fan of the Formula One and I hope he brings it home this year.
He’s arguably the most famous athlete right now in your country, right? What do you admire about him?
Absolutely. And in front of the camera, he’s himself. He says what he thinks and people love him. He’s not talking around it. He’s an unbelievably nice and funny guy. He is who he is and he’s so young and battling Lewis for the championship. He’s so calm too. He never looks to impress. When I was watching in Zandvoort, the crowd was crazy. There were 70,00 people all in orange, singing and dancing. The reporter asked him, ‘Max, what did you just do?’ and he said, ‘I just drove 70 laps.’. The guy should have had goosebumps and he was so calm. It’s amazing.