The current edition of the US Open has hosted several career-boosting runs from qualifiers. Players infamously referred to as “journeymen” or “minor-leaguers” by John McEnroe. Taylor Townsend is taking the women’s draw by storm with her go-for-broke attacking style. The Chicago native is coming to the net an average of over 30 times per set, catching the opposition totally off guard en route to the round of 16. Meanwhile, on the men’s side, this year’s Cinderella Story Award goes to Dominik Koepfer.
Over the past two weeks, Koepfer has sturdily subdued all six of his foes. Ryan Harrison, Nicolas Mahut, Yasutaka Uchiyama, Jaume Munar, Reilly Opelka and No. 17 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili all bent the knee against the former college tennis star. Astonishingly, none of his wins was ever really in doubt. Koepfer won his first two sets in all three of his main draw duels.
If Koepfer was not on your radar before this fortnight, pay close attention. His background story is incredible.
Far from a can’t-miss junior prospect
According to Oliver Heuft, his coach between 7 and 14 years of age, Koepfer shattered even the most optimistic expectations when he reached the final of the 16 & Under German National Championship while practicing just twice a week. Isn’t that mind-boggling?
On the back of that result, Koepfer earned a nomination to compete at the European Championship in Moscow. In what’s his lone Tennis Europe event on record, the German lefty was steamrolled 6-2 6-2 by No. 2 seed Miki Jankovic in the third round.
One would imagine that Koepfer would drastically step up his results on the ITF Junior Tour. Nevertheless, he lost in the first round of qualifying in the only tournament he ever entered, a grade 4 on carpet.
Tulane and Dominik Koepfer, a mutually beneficial story
In 2012, Koepfer elected to fly across the Atlantic Ocean and play college tennis. He was far from a blue chip recruit. Joining a major powerhouse such as USC, Virginia, Ohio State or Wake Forest, to name a few, was a pipedream. Instead, he wound up at Tulane University, a private institution located in New Orleans.
“Tulane took quite a risk at the time,” Heuft told Tennis Magazine.
Nobody anticipated that Koepfer, a fringe lineup guy his freshman year, would become a two-time All-American and No. 1 in the ITA rankings.
“[Tulane Head coach] Marc Booras definitely chose the right training goals. He was responsible for turning a good player into a top athlete and performer,” Heuft said.
The summer of 2019 has been magical
However, the best was yet to come. Merely three years after graduating, Koepfer made his maiden Grand Slam main draw appearance at 2019 Wimbledon. The 25-year-old received a wild card because of his strong results in the three Challengers leading up to the third Major of the season.
As #TennisTwitter personality Paul Timmons pointed out, Koepfer was one point away from not earning the aforementioned Wimbledon invitation. Instead, Koepfer hit his desired service spot on match point, completed his comeback versus Dennis Novak, conquered the Ilkley trophy, beat Filip Krajinovic at Wimbledon and the positive momentum has done nothing but grow at the US Open.
Koepfer was the No. 174 player in the ATP Rankings during the French Open. Three months later, he is guaranteed to climb at least to the No. 84 spot. Oh, and even if he loses his next match against Bane Daniil Medvedev, the $280,000 paycheck will almost double his career to date earnings.
As amazing as Koepfer’s journey has been, he still has work to do to become the most successful Tulane alum at the US Open. According to journalist Randy Walker, three former members of the Green Wave fraternity made it all the way to the semifinals: Cliff Sutter (1932), Ham Richardson (1952 and 1954) and Ron Holmberg (1959).
No matter what happens next, the US Open has been a robust success for Koepfer. Almost as impressive as convincing former University of Tennessee standout Rhyne Williams to cut down on his fishing addiction in order to become his coach.