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Family Matters For Dolgopolov

Alexandr Dolgopolov

Dolgopolov© Alexandr DolgopolovAlexandr Dolgopolov's father has helped him instill discipline this season.

Home is where the heart is for Alexandr Dolgopolov, who has looked to family in his bid to return the Top 20 of the Emirates ATP Rankings.

The 25-year-old Ukrainian, who is known for his love of fast cars, karaoke and partying with friends, has knuckled down in 2014 with his father, Oleksandr, back on board as interim coach. Together, with a renewed commitment, their partnership is starting to pay dividends.

Three years ago, a skinny, 5’11 Dolgopolov made the tennis world sit up and take notice as he burst onto the scene at the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. “He can do practically everything with the ball,” Claudio Pistolesi, then coach of Robin Soderling, said at the time. “His game is very rich. He has many ways to win the point and he is not afraid to go for it. He has amazing acceleration. He plays very fast and it can be uncomfortable to play against him.”

However, while in the past two years there was success in fits and starts, Dolgopolov’s overall progress had begun to stall somewhat. Meanwhile, his contemporaries – Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov –pressed on towards the Top 10. Dolgopolov’s talent and potential was never in question, but a lot more goes in to moulding an elite player. It was time for familial intervention.

“I spoke with Alex last year, but he couldn’t change instantly,” his father, Oleksandr Dolgopolov told ATPWorldTour.com in Madrid. “I tried to speak to him a year ago, but it's so boring for him to hear it from his father. So a lot of friends helped me. 

“My best friend is a wrestling world champion, he spoke with him. His mother spoke to him. He has good friends in Kiev. It didn’t just come from me. There would have been no result. One day he decided to put in the discipline, and it's working well now. He's fighting. He's more consistent.”

DolgopolovA one-month punishing training block in Dubai in the off-season put the miles in Dolgopolov’s legs and he reaped the rewards in a stellar six-week spell in February and March. The Ukrainian initially questioned his father’s decision to take him to South America – describing his clay-court game as “all over the place” sometimes - but it proved to be the right choice as he beat David Ferrer on the dirt to reach the final in Rio de Janeiro (l. to Nadal) and backed it up with a semi-final showing back on hard courts in Acapulco.

In the following ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in North America, Dolgopolov stunned Rafael Nadal en route to the semi-finals in Indian Wells (l. to Federer) and derailed Stanislas Wawrinka in Miami before finally running out of gas in the quarter-finals (l. to Berdych). It was an effort that is still taking its toll now – his father hopes for a return to 100 per cent fitness in time for Roland Garros – but one that took him from World No. 57 at the start of the season to the verge of the Top 20.

“I have the game, I knew that,” Dolgopolov told ATPWorldTour.com. “It's just small stuff. I've been working a little bit harder, I'm a little bit more solid and I've made small adjustments everywhere. You can get much, much better in the rankings [by doing that]. I've added a little bit more commitment and that's why I've got the results, I think.

"I knew I could play the best players; that's what my parents taught me. Even when I've had bad days, and a bad year last year, I knew that I had the game to challenge them. The other thing is to go out and do that. 

“In Indian Wells I was already riding some confidence. So I wouldn't say [beating Nadal] changed something giant-ly. I knew I was playing well and I had a chance. Happily, I could beat Rafa and it was a really big win for me; it took me to my first semi-final in a [ATP World Tour Masters] 1000. The momentum was flowing and I was just trying to focus and not relax and not think that everything was good. For one month, four tournaments, I played really well.”

Dolgopolov Sr., was the man credited with Alex’s early start in tennis. Coach to former Roland Garros finalist and Top 10 player Andrei Medvedev, Oleksandr took Alex with him to tournaments at an early age, introducing him to the likes of Andre Agassi and Boris Becker, who would hit balls with the youngster after endless badgering. Years later, with Dolgopolov at somewhat of a crossroads in his career, it was his father who was able to provide the right direction.

When he first broke through, Dolgopolov described his father as “very disciplined. He can see how every player should play to get to his maximum potential. He likes results, not effort or anything else. And he does everything he can so results are positive.” Then 22, Dolgopolov didn’t want to buy into that regimen when he found his initial success on the ATP World Tour. But with age and maturity, the pair has now managed to strike a balance between the father-son relationship and the coach-player one.

“I've been working with my Dad more since the off-season,” explained Dolgopolov. “We worked together a bit last season, then we had some time off again. I was... searching,” he admitted.

“This year it's gone a little bit better. We've settled down with the team and it's started working and paying off. It's more relaxed than it used to be. There used to be tension when I was playing because it's your parents. It was a little bit of a problem. But now, I think it's more relaxed. I'm getting some good results. 

“We know where we want to go. We strictly keep the tennis away from the personal stuff. I think it's got much better and I know that he really, really enjoys it and wants me to play. That's great for me and the family.”

Oleksandr confessed he does not know how long he and his son will maintain their working relationship – he is more than happy to resume his television-watching days if the right coach becomes available for Alex - but admitted he is relishing the chance to give his son the psychological guidance he feels he needs to fulfill his potential on the ATP World Tour.

According to Oleksandr, the key for prolonged and consistent success is to keep Alex inspired.

Dolgopolov“I know him so well. Sometimes I see how things are going to play out in advance. But it's interesting for me. I like to help from the psychological side. 

"He has natural talent. But lot of it depends on how inspired he is. He can't play if he's somewhere in the middle emotionally; he gets burned. He needs to stay inspired now and not relax. We Russians and Ukrainians find it difficult to play consistently well.”

A superstitious man by nature, Oleksandr is reluctant to put a number on Alex’s potential, but is hopeful that with more good results at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000s and the Grand Slams, a Top 10 spot is within his son’s grasp.

“I can play really good, but I can also drop out and lose to anyone,” admitted Dolgopolov. “It's a two-way situation. I'm looking for my game at the top tournaments and my team is trying to work around that because that's what matters to get the ranking and the wins.

“I'm happier that for sure I'm getting more consistent. Not like a few years ago, when I could win a tournament or get some good results and then do three or four first-round exits. For sure I'm improving because it's tougher to win when the players have already known you for a few years. 

“I think I'm on the right path, but I'm not happy enough yet. If your goal is Top 10, Top 5, you need to do better. I need to work more. I'm just trying my best."

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