There’s shock winners, and then there’s shock winners.
Tim Van Rijthoven definitely falls into the latter.
Consider this: Van Rijthoven had only played in the main draw of one previous ATP Tour tournament before getting a wild card for the Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. He’d never won a title at second-tier ATP Challenger level and hadn’t won an ATP Tour match before the start of the week. He was also ranked No. 205 in the world.
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Van Rijthoven, 24, said on Sunday his hope for the tournament was to “maybe upset one player”.
He was speaking after sweeping past soon-to-be world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the final in just 65 minutes to cap a dream week. He finished with wins over the third seed Taylor Fritz, second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, and the top seed Medvedev.
He is the lowest-ranked man to win an ATP Tour title in over a year.
“To win an ATP Tour title means a lot to me, but to win it at home means the world to me,” he told the ATP Tour afterwards.
“The support has been incredible here. The crowd has been amazing and it is a great achievement for me. I never thought I would win the tournament. I wanted to maybe upset one player. But to upset a couple of players and win the title is just incredible.”
On a tour where the gap between the very best and the rest is large, surprise winners do not come around that often, especially in events featuring three top-15 players.
But although Van Rijthoven was a surprise champion, he was undoubtedly a deserving champion.
He plays a game that is well suited to grass; a big serve powering him to a tournament-high 57 aces and an aggressive approach on the forehand often taking time away from his opponent. Against Medvedev he was exceptional, taking four of 10 break-point chances and only losing his own serve once. Medvedev came into the match having won a higher percentage of return games than any other player at the tournament.
“Amazing week,” said Medvedev, who will replace Novak Djokovic as world No. 1 on Monday, in his on-court speech. “You destroyed the No. 2 in the world in straight sets in the final, so I think it must be a good feeling!
“An amazing match today. Keep it going. I remember you from juniors, you have the talent so now you need to make more matches like this and more tournaments like this. Congrats to you and your team.”
While Van Rijthoven was something of an unknown for many before this week, that is largely because of injuries stunting his progress. As a junior he was ranked No. 13 in the world and beat current world No. 8 Andrey Rublev on his way to reaching the Wimbledon boys’ singles quarter-finals in 2015. He was viewed as a potential future Dutch No. 1, but injury issues have meant he has not been able to stay on court consistently and has had to watch on as Botic van de Zandschulp and Tallon Griekspoor have taken up the charge for Netherlands tennis.
“In tennis years I feel younger than 24, because I was very unlucky with injuries in the past,” he said at the Rotterdam Open earlier this year.
“Having to perform can make or break you. I am now on the court for myself.”
Earlier this year Van Rijthoven started working with former Dutch world No. 52 Igor Sijsling, who recently ended his playing career. He also outlined his goals to break into the top 100 in the world, a feat that is now within touching distance as he is set to soar up to world No. 106 after his title win.
“I believe I have it in me and the goal this year is to get to the top 100,” he said in Rotterdam.
“I know it can go fast. This is proven by players like Botic, Tallon or [Aslan] Karatsev.”
Van de Zandschulp has been a big mover on the ATP Tour since the start of 2021, shooting up from outside the top 150 to inside the top 30. Griekspoor has enjoyed a similar rise, going from around the top 150 to just outside the top 50 in the rankings.
Could Van Rijthoven surpass both? If he continues to play like he did this week then he will certainly be one to watch at Wimbledon, and one to avoid for opponents if he doesn’t get a wild card and has to go through qualifying.
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