Lucas Pouille extended his stay at the 2016 Wimbledon Championships on Monday with a 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-4 10-8 victory over Bernard Tomic. The win takes Pouille even deeper into unchartered Grand Slam territory. Before SW19, the Frenchman had only previously got as far as the second round of a Grand Slam event. What’s more, he had only tasted one five set battle in his career, and his first grass tour-level win came last week. We look at Pouille’s milestone victory, and the often unnoticed rise that has preceded it.
It was a clash of styles on Court 12 of the All-England Club: the industrious Pouille, versus the mercurial Bernard Tomic. The course of the match seemed more in keeping with Tomic’s epithet. It was a battle of incessant swings in momentum. One Tomic purple patch produced an uninterrupted 14 point winning streak across the third and fourth sets. Indeed, after letting the first set slip after being a break up, Tomic pegged back his opponent in the second set before establishing a two sets to one lead. But in the midst of this turbulence, Pouille was a figure of unflappable constancy. In the fourth set, he made just one unforced error. More impressive still was how he managed to neutralise Tomic’s awkward serve, despite the Australian making 86% of first serves in the fourth set and 68% across the match.
However it was to be the final set where the 32nd seed displayed his very best. In terms of shot-making, it was hardly a performance free of imperfections. But in the face of this reality and the countless break points Tomic snatched from him, Pouille was utterly unfazed.
After failing to capitalise on six break points across his opponent’s first three service games, The Frenchman was broken at 2-3. The 22-year-old’s recovery was emphatic though, immediately breaking Tomic’s serve to love. In the face of an opponent who has won eight out of 10 five set matches, Pouille maintained remarkable composure. When he finally broke the Australian #18 seed at 8-8, the Frenchman let out a triumphant roar. It was a celebration that was duly ratified; Pouille closed the match with two imperious aces.
Success on the professional tour is invariably founded upon elite experience at junior level. Pouille however, was never a junior sensation. His peak ITF ranking was 23 and he never even competed at Junior Wimbledon. The relative lateness of his meteoric rise has caused him to often be eclipsed by the younger and more flamboyant Alex Zverev, Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios. You would need to have had your fingers firmly on the pulse of the ATP tour to have taken notice of Pouille.
The now Wimbledon quarter finalist’s journey was first set in motion in 2012, when back-to-back Futures titles in Mexico catapulted him up the rankings – a whole 1000 places in fact. In 2013 he was one of two teenagers inside the world’s top 200. But after notching his first Grand Slam win at Roland Garros over Alex Kuznetsov, the fledgling Frenchman failed to make an impression in ATP events in Montpellier and Marseille.
Success soon came to Pouille on home soil though. At the Paris Masters in 2014, he qualified with top 100 scalps over Steve Johnson and Jarkko Nieminen. But Pouille’s appetite would not be quenched yet, and he drove on to carve out two further remarkable victories over Ivo Karlovic, and then Fabio Fognini. The following year saw the young Frenchman elevate his ranking still further; for the fourth straight season. That self-drive and competitive ambition certainly characterised his performance today.
Lucas Pouille only played his first Wimbledon last year. Plus, his first faltering steps at Grand Slam level have certainly been just that, having lost in Round One in seven of his nine appearances on tennis’ biggest stages.
The 2016 season has been especially fruitful for Pouille so far. At the Australian Open, he reached the semi-finals of the men’s doubles – testament to his versatility. Savvy net play would be a valuable and unique asset amongst the powerhouse baseliners of the upcoming generation. The 22-year-old also battled his way to the last four at the Rome Masters. Yet this Wimbledon quarter-final is surely the pinnacle of the world #30’s career so far. Pouille ended Del Potro’s fairytale and halted the ever-dangerous Tomic. He awaits the winner of Tomas Berdych versus Jiri Vesely. Pouille was very shrewd in keeping the ball low and short for the tall, and invariably nonchalant, Tomic. Against another big opponent, that tactic gives Pouille – a quietly rising star – reason to be quietly confident.