As Wimbledon enters its second week, there are a few names in the fourth round of the men’s singles that haven’t been there for a while (if at all). In particular, there are a few who have been through hell to get back to where they were once before. They may not go any further but by simply reaching this stage, they will have returned some much needed confidence and can hopefully now kick on again.
- Ivo Karlovic
Karlovic is a name known to most tennis fans, even the casual ones. Known for his huge height and even bigger serve, Karlovic has been a tricky opponent for top seeds for a number of years. In 2008, he found himself knocking on the door of the world’s top 10 but inconsistency has meant he’s never been able to break it down. His best performance at a slam was when he reached the quarterfinal of Wimbledon in 2009, beating Tsonga and Verdasco before losing to Federer. He reached the fourth round in Australia, 2010 but hasn’t been back to that stage since. Since then, he’s suffered with a foot injury and meningitis, pushing his career backwards.
A consistent fixture in the seeds before then, he dropped out of the world’s top 100 for a time. A long battle back led to an arrival in the top 50 in May 2014 and it’s been a slow progress back to the high reaches of the 20’s since. Now ranked 25, Karlovic beat Tsonga on Saturday to arrive in the fourth round for this first time since that Melbourne run. Indeed, this is even more impressive when you consider he has only made 3 3R appearances in that time. This year he won his first title since 2013 (and only his second since 2008) so it appears the injuries and illnesses are certainly behind the 6’11’’ Croat.
- Viktor Troicki
The Serbian number 2 has experienced it all in his career to date. Troicki, 29, has a career high ranking of 12, which he gained in June 2011. His ranking now is 24, which suggests a steady decline over 4 years. Looking at the ranking goes nowhere near to explaining what a whirlwind 24 months these have been for Viktor. At the 2013 Monte Carlo Masters, Troicki (who had fallen outside of the top 30 and his best days seemed behind him) lost 1 and 2 to experienced Finn Jarkko Nieminen. There was nothing too unusual there until it was announced that Troicki had failed to provide a blood sample and later got banned for 18 months, reduced to 12 on appeal.
It’s impossible to feel sorry for the Serb, he knew the rules and on drugs or not, he should have obeyed them. It’s fairly unlikely he was on performance enhancing drugs given the ease with which Nieminen beat him so it was most likely simply a lapse in judgement. Either way, it’s pretty stupid and he deserved the ban. Falling to 847 in the world, Troicki’s comeback was spectacular and rose to 102nd in just 4 months. In 2015, he continued this good form – reaching the 3rd and 2nd round of the 2 slams so far, winning his second title in Sydney and reached the final in Stuttgart. In France he was seeded at a slam for the first time since the 2012 US Open and now finds himself back in the second week. He’s never made it to the quarter-finals of a slam, but with his current form and seeming desire to crash into the world’s top 10, he will be a tricky opponent for everyone he meets in the second week. With more and more men peaking in their 30’s, there is every chance Troicki’s next few years will be spent in and around the top 10 of the world.
- David Goffin
At SW19 last year, Goffin was ranked in the 80’s and faced British number 1 Andy Murray in the first round. He lost 1, 4 and 5. Fast forward a year and the Belgian is seeded 16th and featuring in the fourth round of a slam for the first time since his debut appearance in the main draw of one. It’s been one hell of a year for the 24 year old. He initially burst onto the scene as a result of Gael Monfils pulling out of the French Open in 2012. As a lucky loser, Goffin beat Stepanek, Clement and Kubot to become the first lucky loser to reach the last 16 of a slam since 1995. In taking the first set of Federer in the fourth, many thought a star was being born. He lost in 4 but it was enough to see him given a wildcard by Wimbledon, one he completely justified by reaching the 3rd round, beating Tomic along the way. His second round win over Jesse Levine would be his last slam victory for more than 2 years.
In fairness to Goffin, the first round draws he received were atrocious. At the 2012 US Open he drew Berdych, which was followed by Verdasco, Djokovic, Tsonga, Dolgopolov, Melzer and Murray. In the 7 slams he played (he withdrew from 2014 Australian Open qualifying with an injury), he had to face 6 guys who were in / had been in the top 10 along with Dolgopolov, a consistent force in the world’s top 50. When he finally got a decent draw, at the 2014 US Open, he responded by winning his way through to the third round and taking a set off Dimitrov. Since then he’s kicked on, reaching 4 ATP finals and soaring up the rankings to a comfortable place inside the world’s top 20. He was named comeback player of the year by the ATP last year and in reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, shows no sign of stopping. With a very consistent game, expect him to be a force at this level for years to come.
- Gilles Simon
It might seem odd to include Simon on this list, given that he is a fairly regular fixture in the 3rd/4th round of slams however I feel that this year has been a year in which he has returned to playing his best tennis. I first heard of Simon during the 2008 year end finals, where he beat Roger Federer on his way to reaching the semi-finals. He reached the quarter finals in Melbourne a few months later and thus looked set to be a fixture in the top 10 for years to come. He dropped out of it in October 2009, and hasn’t been back since.
The Simon story has been one of good runs of form pushing him back towards that level, before dropping off and disappearing outside of the world’s top 30. Following an injury in 2010, he found himself outside of the top 50 before fighting back, finding form and reaching 11 in October 2011. He dropped off again, and in 2014 was back down in the 40’s, despite being relatively consistent in slams. His form elsewhere was patchy. Since then, something seems to have clicked and the Frenchman is back at 13, and in his second fourth round at a Grand Slam in a row. Towards the end of 2014, he showed the world what he could do by beating Ferrer at Flushing Meadows and then reaching the final of the Shanghai masters, beating Wawrinka, Berdych and Lopez along the way. He pushed Federer to two tie-breaks in the final but lost both. Maybe not quite a dramatic comeback as the previous three on this list, but a consistent 10 months have shown that Gilles Simon is close to being back to where he was when he gate crashed the world’s top 10 6 years ago. In a few months he will be defending a lot of big points, whether he makes the world’s top 10 again or falls back to his usual cycle will depend on how well he performs then.
- Vasek Pospisil
If Simon was a dubious pick for this article, then Pospisil definitely is however it’s a story worth telling. Vasek, the Canadian number 2, is only 25 and already has a Wimbledon doubles title to his name however this is his first appearance in the fourth round of any slam (hence why it can’t really be called a “comeback”). He has the potential to be seeded at every singles Grand Slam, and indeed was at the 2014 Australian Open. After reaching the third round there, he was seemingly ready to make a serious assault on the top 20, 15, even 10 of the world. What followed was a run of months where he couldn’t buy a win and by the end of the year he had dropped out of the world’s top 50.
If he hadn’t have made the 3rd round in Australia again, he would have been closing to losing his place in the top 100 of the rankings. Another first round loss in Paris as well as not even qualifying for the Madrid Masters meant he stayed in the late 50’s in the world. Even at this stage of his career, it looked as if his best bet would be to focus on doubles. However, the draw has opened up for him here at Wimbledon and he has taken full advantage, beating Millot, Fognini and recently James Ward to power into the fourth round, where he will face Viktor Troicki. This is a come-back of sorts, as this run should propel him close to being seeded for the US Open next month and hopefully this time he can remain there.
One of Pospisil or Troicki will reach the quarter final of a grand slam for the first time. Karlovic, Simon and Goffin all play world top tenners (Murray, Berdych and Wawrinka respectively) however all are playing well and all will give their higher ranked opposition a stern test. Indeed, Simon has a winning record over his Czech opponent and Goffin v Wawrinka has the potential to be tie of the round. All five have had lows and all five are currently experiencing highs. Players like Karlovic and Troicki will inspire those struggling with injuries and loss of form that comebacks and resurgences are possible while Pospisil and Goffin are perfect examples of why you should never write young players off, even after a few bad months. For me, it’s great to see all 5 in the fourth round of a slam once again, and hopefully all which achieve their goals for the rest of the year.