March 21, 2021

Never Give Up

It's so common in tennis that we spend time focusing on the young phenoms who break through the ranks in their teens or the powerhouses that dominate the sport year after year. With Coco Gauff stealing the spotlight with big upsets or the Big Three winning one Slam after another, it can be difficult to spot those players who come into their own a little big later in life.

And that's what makes some of this week results so remarkable -- it wasn't just the shiny favorites seeing the most success, but a couple workhorses who've been building up to their big wins finally getting a chance at glory.

I'll start in Dubai where, I think it's safe to say, few could have predicted the outcome we got. Wildcard Aslan Karatsev, the undisputed Cinderella of the Australian Open, showed no signs of losing that momentum, dispatching four seeds, including 2020's breakthrough teen Jannik Sinner and nearly-unstoppable countryman Andrey Rublev, on his way to the final. Meanwhile qualifier Lloyd Harris, who'd peaked at a career high #72 last year, came out the gate swining too, notching his first top ten win over #1 seed Dominic Thiem in the second round and then besting Denis Shapovalov in the semis.

But ultimately it was the 27-year-old Russian who walked away with the title. The feat particularly notable, as Karatesev, having spent most of his career on the Challenger and ITF circuits, never played an ATP final before this week. The win will rocket him to the top thirty in the world, not bad for someone who was at a high of #112 at the start of the year. And after all the work he's put in to get here, it sure would be nice to see him stick around.

Over in Monterrey, we have a chance to see something similar. Viktorija Golubic may not have had the splashy success at a Slam that Karatsev did, and she actually has some experience in the winners' circle, with a title in Gstaad back in 2016. But the 28-year-old Swiss has nevertheless been languishing in the triple digits for the last few years and spending a lot of time qualifying for events. She had to do that earlier this month in Lyon, but made her way to the final anyway, and she had to do it again in Mexico. And so far she's taken out sixth seeded Anna Blinkova and eighth seed Ann Li to make her second straight championship match.

In the final tonight, she'll face wünderkind Leylah Fernandez, who ended Guadalajara champion Sara Sorribes Tormo's run in the semis. The 18-year-old Canadian is the favorite here, but Golubic should be able to hold her own -- and, after losing to one teenager in France, she's going to want to flip the script a bit. Either way, having made two straight finals should do a lot to boost her confidence, and might just help her get back to and better than her previous high.

If these guys' performances show us anything, it's that it's never too late to achieve success. And with so much more opportunity to thrive this year, something tells me we haven't yet seen the best they have to offer.

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