The 2022 season brought the Netherlands only one ATP Tour title in singles when a relatively unknown wildcard Tim Van Rijthoven shocked Daniil Medvedev in the summit clash of the Libema Open. In fact, it was the first tour-level title for a Dutchman in 10 years.
That number could be matched in the first week of 2023 season itself as Botic van de Zandschulp and Tallon Griekspoor look to win their respective semifinals in the Tata Open Maharashtra at the Balewadi Stadium on Friday.
For Van De Zandschulp, World No. 35, it was a case of so near yet so far last year when he was forced to retire midway through his first tour-level final, facing Danish teenager Holger Rune in Munich. “The retirement wasn’t because I wasn’t fit enough, but something else (aching chest). Of course, I want to get the first title this year and I’m working hard for it. Hopefully that’s coming,” said the 27-year-old Dutchman.
Van de Zandschulp, seeded second, has defeated two qualifiers — Italy’s Flavio Cobolli and Germany’s Maximilian Marterer — in straight sets in his two matches so far. However, he could face his first real test against Frenchman Benjamin Bonzi who knocked out sixth-seeded Serbian Filip Krajinovic in the quarterfinals.
This is uncharted territory for Griekspoor. The 26-year-old has never made it this far in a tour-level tournament. The World No. 95, after solid wins over Spaniard Jaume Munar and Italian Marco Cecchinato, was due to face top seed Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals before the Croatian pulled out due to a knee injury. Like Van De Zandschulp, Griekspoor, too, is set to be involved in a tough fight against eighth-seeded Russian Aslan Karatsev in the semifinals.
Motorsport biggest but tennis not far behind in Netherlands
Max Verstappen is probably the most prominent athlete in the Netherlands after his back-to-back Formula One world championship titles and there is football, of course, but Griekspoor feels tennis is also catching up. “In tennis, we’ve been doing really well lately. Obviously Botic has been doing really well, Tim who won the ATP title in Holland last year was really good for the sport and I think we have some good guys coming around 150 (in rankings). In a couple of years, you have like five to seven guys in the top 100. We had a few tough years, but now it looks better,” said Griekspoor, whose father was a motocross driver.
Van de Zandschulp feels practising together in the same place has helped the Dutch male tennis players make each other better and he had a role to play in the recent rise of his compatriots. “I think I was the first one to breakthrough a little bit and the other guys started to believe in themselves and got some really nice results,” said the 27-year-old, who became the first Dutchman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles in 17 years during the 2021 US Open.
However, when it comes to a big player who a kid looks up to while picking up a tennis racquet in the Netherlands, it is still, majorly, the 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. “We don’t really have a lot of people to look up to but he is someone people adore,” said World No. 111 Van Rijthoven, who lost in two tight tiebreaks to Karatsev in the second round.
Dutch men’s singles tennis could have one of its biggest moments in history on Saturday. The one and only all-Dutch tour-level final in the Open Era took place way back in 1995 when Krajicek beat Paul Haarhuis in front of home fans in Rotterdam. Could Griekspoor and Van de Zandschulp repeat the feat after 28 years?
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