Qualifiers Make Huge Impact at the 2021 US Open

Maxime Cressy

Four men’s singles qualifiers are already into the third round of the 2021 US Open. This is just the fourth time this has happened in the Open Era, but Maxime Cressy and Oscar Otte will have a chance to even improve that result on Thursday. The current record of qualifiers at that stage of the tournament belongs to the 1984 edition, when Bob Green, Jay Lapidus, Kenneth Flach Kevin Moir, and Todd Nelson made it to the round of 32. Neither would go on to make the quarterfinals.

The count stopped at four in 1999 (Nicolas Escude, Fredrik Jonsson, Xavier Malisse, Peter Wessels) and 2017 (Radu Albot, Mikhail Kukushkin, Nicolas Mahut, Denis Shapovalov), with only Escude making his way to the final eight. It’s worth mentioning that both these editions also had a lucky loser in the Round of 32 (1999 – Laurence Tielemans, 2017 – Leonardo Mayer). Who are the 2021 US Open qualifiers already in the third round, and what are their chances going forward?

Qualifiers Make Huge Impact at the 2021 US Open

Grand Slam qualifying veteran

Henri Laaksonen has been a very familiar name for these paying a lot of attention to Grand Slam qualifying in recent years. The Swiss (who used to represent Finland in his junior days), has participated in 27 majors so far, getting directly accepted into the main draw just three times. His success rate at the qualifying hasn’t been great before this year, but has improved to 5 out of 24 now as Laaksonen qualified for the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and the US Open. The 29-year-old had to come back from a set down against Eliot Spizzirri and Blaz Rola, but massively improved when he entered the main draw.

Commonly regarded as an underachiever, the Swiss took out John Millman in straight sets, hitting 16 aces and saving his best for the two tie-breakers. In the second round, he was able to blast through the clay-court specialist Cristian Garin, showcasing a very attacking mindset. Laaksonen peaked at World No. 93 in the ATP Rankings, and winning another round in the US Open would almost secure him a return to the top 100. This is the second time the Swiss reached the last 32 stage at a Grand Slam (Roland Garros 2021).

Sixth time’s the charm

Laaksonen should have a decent chance at doing just that as he’s going to face another qualifier, Peter Gojowczyk. The German has a much more decorated ATP Tour history with a career-high ranking of No. 39 and a title at the 2017 Moselle Open. However, the 32-year-old lost his previous five round-two matches at Grand Slams, finally breaking through that barrier on Wednesday. Gojowczyk survived a thriller in his first qualifying match as Lukas Rosol had him on the ropes, serving for the match twice.

The German plays a fast-paced hit-or-miss game, taking the ball on the rise. When it’s bad, it’s bad, but on a given day he can be a nightmare to face. After barely scraping through his first match in New York, Gojowczyk found his best tennis in years to make two upsets over Ugo Humbert and Dusan Lajovic in five sets, once again demonstrating how his level of play can fluctuate. Just like for Laaksonen, a fourth-round visit could mean getting back to the top 100.

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Comeback king

For most of his campaign, Botic van de Zandschulp hasn’t even been playing that well. The big-serving Dutchman came back from a set down in all three of his qualifying matches, completing a very unique achievement of (sort of) making it through all of the Grand Slam qualifying draws this year (lucky loser into Wimbledon, advanced to the main draw in the other three). Slow-starting has been a clear trend for him in New York, especially in the opening round as he bounced back from being two sets down to Carlos Taberner.

Van de Zandschulp scored one of the upsets of the tournament so far, taking out eighth-seeded Casper Ruud, once again from a set down. The Norwegian is at his best on clay, but he’s recently improved his hard court abilities and made back-to-back quarterfinals at Toronto and Cincinnati. Van de Zandschulp played his best match of the fortnight and blasted 49 winners past the rising star of the ATP Tour.

The 25-year-old is still seeking his top 100 debut, but he is guaranteed to make it if he wins his third round. His rival will be Facundo Bagnis and the Dutchman will be the favorite of this clash, coming from the fact that the opponent owned just one tour-level win on hard courts prior to this week.

When you’re in-form, the surface doesn’t matter

For Alex Molcan, the 2021 US Open is a Grand Slam main draw debut. The 23-year-old has been on the rise this year, making multiple deep runs at Challengers (including a maiden title at Liberec, where he lost just 19 games on the way to the title). He also finished runner-up at the ATP Tour event in Belgrade, playing a very competitive match against Novak Djokovic. Most of Molcan’s 2021 success came on clay, but he came very close to qualifying at Wimbledon already, throwing away his final round match from being up two sets to love.

The Slovakian has a counter-punching game and excels at turning defense into offense. His last match in the qualifying once again became a thriller, but Molcan found a way to save two match points and fend off Gastao Elias in a deciding set tie-breaker. He would then go on to defeat a fellow qualifier Cem Ilkel in the opening round, before upsetting home crowd favorite Brandon Nakashima.

Winning his third-round match would also have Molcan in the running for a Top 100 spot (for the first time in his career). But just like Gojowczyk and Laaksonen, he would need another one to completely secure it. The Slovakian will play Kevin Anderson or Diego Schwartzman in the third round. Regardless of the opponent, won’t be considered the favorite to win this clash.

Main Photo from Getty.


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