While he’s still yet to break the Top 100 (it might change very soon though), this year has featured plenty of progress for Dominic Stricker. At the French Open, he made it into a Grand Slam main draw for the very first tim–as a lucky loser. Just a few weeks later in London, he managed to make it through the qualifying in the usual manner and won his first-round match against Alexei Popyrin. But now in New York, he has once again broken new ground.
Early success and a season of stagnation
Stricker impressed everyone at an early age, winning the 2020 Roland Garros juniors title over Leandro Riedi and then following it up with main tour results very quickly. When he was just 18, he made back-to-back ATP 250 quarterfinals in Geneva (clay) and Stuttgart (grass), which was just a phenomenal achievement. But since then, one could say that even despite five Challenger titles, the Swiss had not achieved quite as much as his potential would suggest.
Are these days finally over? Maybe. Throughout 2023, Stricker has been impressing with his increasing maturity. In February he grabbed a Challenger title in Rovereto, coming back from a set and a break down in the opening round against Mili Poljicak. From that point onwards, he showcased a more patient mindset the rest of the week and was willing to grind if necessary. That was also clear in his US Open qualifying campaign when he scored a dramatic win over Pablo Llamas Ruiz, surviving two match points.
Incredible resilience vs Tsitsipas
After beating Popyrin again, just like at Wimbledon, Stricker got his second opportunity to face a Top 10 player with Stefanos Tsitsipas awaiting him in Round 2. The 21-year-old felt very comfortable in this matchup from the get-go, peppering the Greek’s one-handed backhand return with his lefty serve out wide. That was also how he saved a set point in the opener, eventually taking it 7-5.
Top players have a way of producing in the most important moments though and Tsitsipas was a lot calmer in the business end of the next two sets, which both ended in tie-breakers. Stricker came up with some untimely double faults and putaway volley misses. When the Greek was about to serve for the match at 5-3 in the 4th, it all looked like a regular pattern where the favorite struggles early but gets back on track. We’ve all seen that movie before.
But Stricker wasn’t even close to giving up. He broke back in spectacular fashion and ended up playing a much stronger tie-break this time around. At six points all, he drew a backhand error from Tsitsipas with a smart block return. While generally not the most durable player physically, the Swiss was absolutely clinical in the decider. He got off to a great start and played gutsy tennis all the way to the end, finishing the match on his 30th forehand groundstroke winner that just clipped the line.
Stricker finds himself right back in Top 100 contention again, although he might have to score one more win to secure it. Even losing to Tsitsipas in such a tight clash would have been a phenomenal learning opportunity for him and an experience that was bound to make him stronger in the future. Beating him in an over four-hour thriller just takes his career to a whole new level. The Swiss always seemed like a player who would figure things out at some point and start fulfilling his potential to go far in this sport, even if it was taking him longer than expected. Perhaps that time starts now.
As for Tsitsipas, it is yet another early exit in New York. The World No. 7 owns a 6-6 record at the US Open, his worst Slam statistically (despite amazing results in the other hard-court Major in Australia). It wasn’t entirely unexpected after a mediocre warm-up campaign and he did face a very talented player. But undoubtedly it is yet another brutal loss for him at this event after the six match points blown against Borna Coric, fifth-set tie-break with then 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, and last year’s shock defeat to Daniel Elahi Galan.
Main Photo Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports