A strange thing happened to Alexandr Dolgopolov on the way to upsetting the No. 3 player in the world at the Sony Open on Tuesday.
Dolgopolov started singing songs to himself in his head during the match. Rap, to be specific.
“I do that sometimes,” he said after his 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Stanislas Wawrinka on Grandstand Court at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. The victory advanced Dolgopolov, a 25-year-old from the Ukraine who is ranked 23rd in the world, to the quarterfinals.
Dolgopolov is a free-swinging tennis player with, to put it gently, a free-wheeling mind.
Apparently, the singing in the head works sometimes and sometimes doesn’t.
“Today, it helped me,” he said.
In the heads of most tennis players is keeping their eye on the ball, getting set up early and taking a smooth swing with a strong, upward follow-through. Not Dolgopolov.
“I was not thinking about anything,” Dolgopolov said. “I was somewhere else much of the match. I was not nervous at all.”
Maybe not nervous, but certainly happy at the conclusion.
“It feels great and I don’t have much emotion left,” Dolgopolov said. “I was really happy with the way I played. I was just playing, playing, playing — and it worked.”
Dolgopolov tries to keep matters in perspective.
He was asked if this was one of the more memorable victories of his career.
He shrugged and said he doesn’t think in that manner.
“I was as happy with this as when I got my first win,” he said. “I’m not a person that points out one thing in life.”
He said he went into Tuesday’s match “... not expecting much from myself. I knew he [Wawrinka] was on a roll.”
He said Wawrinka took some “risky” shots during the match. “He was maybe overplaying some balls.”
When asked what he thought of his next match in the quarterfinals, he said, “I don’t know who it might be. Can you tell me?”
Obviously, this is a kid with a song, and hardly any worries, in his head.
Just so he isn’t surprised, Dolgopolov will be facing the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych, who defeated John Isner 6-3, 7-5, in the quarterfinals. It will be another top 10 challenge for Dolgopolov coming up; Berdych is ranked No. 7 in the world.
Will Dolgopolov use the song-in-the-head routine while playing Berdych. “Don’t know yet,” he said.
Don’t be mistaken, when it is called for there is a serious side to Dolgopolov. He’s well aware of what’s going on in his homeland of Ukraine, which is being threatened with takeover as Russian troops amass on the borders.
In fact, he recently put out a video with the help of fellow tennis stars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and others making a plea for peace in the Ukraine.
Since he is not there, the video was the only way he could reach his fellow Ukrainians. It was a moral obligation for him to do something for his countrymen, he said.
All in all, he said, “I don’t like politics. Tennis really doesn’t influence the situation in the Ukraine.
“The video was what I could do. There is nothing else I can say or do for the people.”
Dolgopolov started playing tennis at age 3, under the tutelage of his father, Oleksandr, who played for the Soviet Union. His mother was a gymnast.
Playing for such a long time, does he ever get tired of swinging a tennis racket?
With the simplicity of a song lyric and with a smile, he said, “Never get tired of it. I don’t do anything I don’t love.”