Alex Molcan has enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, clinching his maiden Challenger title at Liberec and even getting to a championship match at the higher level, losing to Novak Djokovic in Belgrade. The 23-year-old is currently chasing a debut appearance in the top 100, playing his last tournament of the season in Helsinki.
Molcan already came very close in Bergamo and Bratislava, losing semifinal matches to Holger Rune and Tallon Griekspoor, respectively. This time a big chance presents itself one round earlier as defeating Oscar Otte on Friday in Helsinki would all but clinch it for the Slovakian (Sebastian Baez would have to win the title at Campinas, while Feliciano Lopez and Holger Rune reach the final Pau to throw him out).
“Of course, I have it in my head. Now I’m one win away so of course, I can be nervous, but I don’t think it’s anything negative, I’m not thinking about it before the match that I have to win or something, I just play my game”, said the 23-year-old, asked about whether he feels any extra pressure because of being so close to making it to the best hundred in the world.
Surviving a tough opener
Molcan was almost out of the tournament at the first hurdle, going down a break in the deciding set to Tim van Rijthoven. A weaker service game from the Dutchman allowed him to level and the 23-year-old made sure to pounce in the tie-breaker. Molcan had an injury scare in the middle of that match, having to call the physio for his thigh. In his second round against Shintaro Mochizuki, the Slovakian had it taped. “It was better than yesterday, so I recovered pretty well.”
This season has seen Molcan breaking new ground, reaching milestone after milestone. But the Slovakian doesn’t think it’s about the improvements to his game. “It’s 100% mindset, also discipline. I started to work on my head with my mental coach and it helped me a lot.”
Whatever happens on Friday, Molcan cannot expect his quarterfinal to be straightforward. Oscar Otte won two Challenger titles in the previous three weeks and in some ways, has had a season just as brilliant as his opponent, highlighted by a fourth-round appearance at the US Open.
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