Having just turned 22, resolute American Tommy Paul is currently ranked No. 136 in the world. But over the next several months, provided that he applies himself purposefully and avoids injuries, Paul has an opportunity to turn a corner in his tennis career.
Paul can start landing in the territory where he belongs after paying his dues, making his presence known more dynamically than ever before. With fond memories of his junior triumph at the French Open four years ago, Paul is eagerly anticipating a return to Paris next week after winning the USTA’s Roland Garros Wild Card Challenge. He secured the wild card through his performances on the ATP Challenger Tour beginning in mid-April: he claimed the crown in Sarasota and reached the final in Tallahassee to emerge as the frontrunner.
“I am excited to get back on the Roland Garros courts," Paul told Tennis.com in a telephone interview. "My last time there was when I lost in the qualifying in 2016, the year after I won the juniors. I want to get out there and win as many matches as I can. That is the ultimate goal for me.”
The way Paul sees it, he can use Roland Garros as a springboard to attain his goal in the ATP rankings, looking to chase his chief aspirations with vigor.
“Paris is a good opportunity to get my ranking where I want it to be. My goal is to end the year in the Top 50. I like to set my goals high,” says Paul. “If I can get that before the end of the year, I will have to change my goals. If I don’t finish Top 100, I will be pretty upset with myself. I also want to win an ATP Tour event this year or next year.”
When he took the French Open junior title in 2015, Paul defeated fellow American Taylor Fritz in the final. As he recalls, “Beating Fritz in the final was the highlight of my junior career. I remember a day after my first round that year being a little tired. I told my coach that my legs felt heavy but he told me once I was in the semis that wasn’t going to matter anymore. He was right.”
He would relish recapturing that feeling again in Paris this time around in the men’s draw. And that was one of the primary reasons why he worked so diligently in those Challenger tournaments to garner the Roland Garros wild card. But the pursuit of the wild card was not his initial incentive. As Paul explains, “It was about getting my ranking up and getting my points total up as well. Even though I wanted to watch out for my body, I wanted to play that last Challenger because the whole point was to get my ranking closer to where I want to be. Going to those Challengers wasn’t originally about the wild card at all.”
Paul missed a large chunk of 2018, suffering significantly with a right wrist injury. His ranking dropped to No. 392 in August but he was back in the numerical neighborhood of 200 by the end of the season.
“It sucked for sure,” he says. “Originally my elbow started hurting after the 2018 Australian Open, and that was really frustrating for me because it happened when I was starting to play really well. I had to take time off and tried to come back for the Miami Open in March. But then when I was warming up for my match, my elbow began hurting again. All of the people around me kept me motivated and my coach, Diego Moyano, has never stopped believing in me since we started working together five or six years ago.”
Toward the end of last year, Paul rediscovered the art of winning, taking the Challenger title in Charlottesville, Virginia. He lost in the last round of qualifying, got into the main draw as a lucky loser and did not lose a set. He followed with a semifinal showing in Champaign, Illinois, setting the stage for a productive 2019 with that display of resurgence.
His form at the recent three springtime Challengers was impressive across the board. The triumph in Sarasota was the product of his hard work and resilience as a competitor. After a decisive 6-1, 6-2 victory over Gastao Elias in the first round, he came from behind to defeat Daniel Elahi Galan 2-6, 6-1, 6-1, and fended off a stern challenge from the wily Paolo Lorenzi, taking another three-set encounter.
“The Galan match was a good one. I didn’t come out too hot but he was playing really well. I knew it was going to be a tough match,” reflects Paul. “I remember thinking how important that second game of the second set was going to be, how if I won this game the match could change. And then I won like ten games in a row, which only proved my point.”
After a routine semifinal victory, Paul toppled compatriot Tennys Sandgren for the title, 6-3, 6-4, saving no fewer than 15 break points across two productive sets.
“It was actually pretty funny," Paul recalls. “In one of the games, I think I had eight break points against me and I saved them all. I was going for my shots and trusting my game. I fought very hard on the break points. I was pretty happy about that.”
Heading to Tallahassee, he had a stern round-of-16 battle with Mitchell Krueger but came through 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2). That was a crucial win in the middle of his uplifting swing. “That was overall a really high-quality match," Paul recollects. "I was down one match point but saved it with a kick wide and forehand open court type point. In the tie-break, I played tight tennis and made sure not to miss too many balls. It was definitely a clutch match. I was pumped because my Mom was there to see it.”
In the semifinals, Paul upended Sandgren again in a match with a similar scoreline. After playing nine matches in under two weeks, Paul was understandably feeling some fatigue, and was beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Emilio Gomez in the final. As he explains, “Honestly I didn’t play great but I don’t want to take anything away from Emilio. There were three or four points that still stick out in my mind where I remember what might have been if I had taken advantage of them. But he just played very good tennis and that was pretty much it.”
Paul moved on to Savannah and pulled out a pair of taxing three-set matches there, but realized he was in no condition to compete any longer and withdrew prior to his quarterfinal. “I knew I needed to take care of my body and make sure I was ready for Europe by having a good training block before Geneva and the French Open,” says Paul.
“I am working on flexibility and spending time in the gym, keeping myself strong and fit. And I have been working more on my mental side with a psychologist. I talk with him once every week or two and try to take in what he says I should work on. The big thing for me is being self-motivated.”
When he is in Paris, Paul will be “treating this as a business trip, because that is exactly what it is” but will allocate time to poke fun with the contingent of Next Gen Americans. “Every time I see them doing well, I am happy for them,” says Paul. “We are pumping each other up all the time and sending videos to each other on Instagram and giving each other grief. Mmoh, Tiafoe, Opelka, Fritz: all of us are really close. I feel I belong with them.”