Aljaz Bedene and the Cruel Nature of Tennis

Aljaz Bedene

Aljaz Bedene was four points away from his first ATP Tour title. Four points. Close enough that he can taste victory, yet far enough that it still felt like a ways to go. He had already won 72 points so far in the match up until that point, yet getting these final four points meant more, as the stakes were greatest.

The scene was the center court of the indoor hard court tournament in Metz. The score was 3-3 in the second set tiebreak. Bedene won the first set 7-6(4). Bedene was serving first in this set. Throughout the set, the pressure mounted on his opponent, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, to hold. Bedene had almost gotten Tsonga to crack at 4-3* up in the set, when Tsonga was serving down break point. But Tsonga held and eventually the match found itself in a second-set tiebreak.

This tiebreak was the biggest of Bedene’s career. He had lost his previous three ATP Tour finals, spanning from 2015 to 2018. In those matches, he never got more than four games in a set nor more than seven games in a match. This was the first ATP Tour final that Bedene was fully in the match, close to taking the title.

Tsonga, a Frenchman, had the crowd on his side and burst out to a 3-1* lead, but Bedene fought back to level the tiebreak at 3-3 for the change of ends. However, Tsonga won four of the next five points to win the second set 7-6(4). Tsonga then broke early in the third set and never faced a break point in the set, winning the set 6-3 for his 18th ATP Tour title. When all of the chips had fallen, Bedene was left runner-up, yet again. 18 titles behind his counterpart on the other side of the net.

The career of Aljaz Bedene

Bedene is a player who might be best known in the past for not being able to play for the British Davis Cup team and subsequently changing the flag he competed under back to Slovenia, where he was born. Despite reaching a career high of World No. 43 in February of last year, Bedene has been playing some of the best tennis of his career in recent weeks.

Falling as low as World No. 97 in the ATP rankings in May, Bedene has undergone a resurgence since then, his live ranking rising to World No. 64. Recent results winning the Portoroz Challenger and then going to the US Open and making the third round with a huge five set win over current World No. 23 Benoit Paire. Bedene was also up a set on current World No. 6 Alexander Zverev in his third round match.

Bedene in Metz

After winning both Davis Cup rubbers over the weekend, Bedene came to Metz on a mission for his first title. He only dropped one set on his way to the final, taking out players such as Gilles Simon, Pablo Carreno-Busta, and Benoit Paire again.

Bedene put on a display of top-notch controlled aggression this week in Metz. From the baseline, Bedene was very consistent and stepped up in the court and attacked when given the opportunity this week. Highlighted by a three match stretch where he only faced one break point and never was broken, Bedene was smart and precise in his serving this week. This stretch included matches against two of the best of the best returners in the sport in Simon and Carreno-Busta. In the tournament as a whole, including the final, Bedene was only broken twice.

Bedene was only broken once against Tsonga and that didn’t occur until the third set. He had good serving numbers, serving 14 aces and winning 75% of his first serves and 58% of his second serves. Yet, serving at *3-4 down in the second set tiebreak, Bedene gave up a mini-break. And early in the third set, when he was undoubtably still thinking about that second set tiebreaker, Tsonga broke Bedene to love.

At the end of it all, Bedene wasn’t the one lifting the winner’s trophy. That’s margin in professional tennis at the highest level, especially on indoor hard (or grass). Tsonga’s serve is so huge, his ability to play first-strike tennis so honed, that if you give him anything, if you have a momentary lapse in concentration, then you’re putting yourself in a hole.

Aljaz Bedene has decent number of years left playing tennis, he is only 30 years old after all. Yet, after waiting for many years and a few ATP Tour finals where he was not close to winning, this felt like an opportunity. He had worked so hard, played with such passion and spirit, and he was a few points in the tiebreak away. Yet, it wasn’t to be.

Bedene has taken the right attitude towards the loss for sure, posting on Twitter how proud he is of himself and promising to forge on. And it’s certainly a good possibility that if he continues to play with the level that he has shown in recent tournaments that he will be right there at the end in the future, with more opportunities to grab his first ATP Tour title. Bedene played fantastic tennis this week.

But, there seems to be something cruel about the nature of tennis. For Bedene to play so well, get so close to achieving something he’s never achieved before, yet to fall to someone winning his 18th version of what Bedene wants to achieve? Tennis is a cruel sport.

In a somewhat similar respect, this can be seen with Rafael Nadal’s five-set win over Daniil Medvedev.¬† For Medvedev, who had never won a major before, to come all the way back from two-sets-and-a-break down only to fall 6-4 in the fifth to someone winning his 19th title certainly felt harsh. For Nadal, from a numbers’ perspective, doesn’t seem to need the title as much as Medvedev. Just as Tsonga, from a numbers’ perspective, doesn’t seem to need the title as much as Bedene.

But tennis is a kill-or-be-killed, eat-or-get-eaten type of sport. Money and points, generally, need to be earned from winning, and complacency will lead to a drop in the rankings and loss in opportunities.

But, a veteran like Aljaz Bedene knows this. Bedene knows that he will have to just continue on, play the level he demonstrated this week, and hope that it will result in an ATP Tour winner’s trophy (or trophies) in the future.

Main Photo from Getty.