Challenger Q&A: Paul A Perfect 15-For-15 For Sarasota Crown
Nerves of steel and unwavering perseverance. Tommy Paul demonstrated both of those traits and then some on Sunday at the Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open.
Paul was as clutch as they come in the final of the ATP Challenger Tour event, saving all 15 break points faced to upset second seed Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 40 minutes. The 21-year-old American dug in his heels on the green clay, turning aside two break points in the first set and a whopping 13 more in the second.
The victory is extra special for Paul, who was competing in just his second tournament in his return from a quad tendon issue. Last year, he struggled with a knee ailment for a majority of the season, but capped his campaign with a maiden title on the indoor hard courts of Charlottesville. And on Sunday he once again made a triumphant comeback from an injury.
Paul ascends 46 spots to No. 158 in the ATP Rankings with the victory. After struggling for years to make his Challenger breakthrough, the American is finally putting it all together. In addition to his victory over Sandgren, he earned quality wins over Daniel Elahi Galan, a semi-finalist at last week’s ATP Tour stop in Houston, and fifth seed Paolo Lorenzi.
Paul spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following Sunday’s triumph in Sarasota…
The big takeaway is 15 break points faced and 15 break points saved. How did you do it today?
The big points really went well for me today. It’s funny because the last time we played in Savannah, it went to 7-6 in the third. We had a battle of a match. I was saving a ton of break points then too and I did better returning on the ad side. And today I think I saved only one of those break points on the deuce side. I was more comfortable returning on the ad side, but I wouldn’t say I was too comfortable with all 15 break points [laughs].
Compare this title to your first in Charlottesville last year. I know that was such a relief for you, but what does this one feel like, considering you’re coming back from injury?
This one feels good, I’m not going to lie. This one feels really good. Especially having the injury last year and coming back to win Charlottesville in October, but then getting injured again this year. I took a few months off again after Australia. It was really frustrating. But to come back again and win the title in my second tournament back is amazing.
I think I played at a pretty high level from the start. The first day I came out, I played Gastao Elias and had a great level the whole match. I wouldn’t say it was too easy of a draw. I had Lorenzi next. It was just a great tournament and I had a lot of fun out there. This week means a lot to me.
What does this clay-court stretch mean to you? You had such a successful run a few years ago and missed it last year. And now you have this opportunity to really grow in the ATP Rankings.
It’s funny because before Houston last week, my last clay-court match was in 2017. And I didn’t play for nearly two years on the dirt. It’s great to be back out here. I think it’s all about how I prepare for each surface. It takes me more time to get comfortable on hard. I grew up on green clay and have been playing on clay my whole life.
You are in the lead for the USTA’s French Open Wild Card Challenge. How much is that in your mind?
It’s definitely in my mind, but I don’t want to think about it too much. I’m going to Tallahassee to try to do well and keep the lead. I’m just taking it one match and one point at a time. We’ll see.