What a difference a year makes.
Twelve months ago Botic van de Zandschulp set foot on American soil for the first time when he fronted up to play qualifying at Flushing Meadows. This year the 6′ 3″ Dutchman returns as the No. 21 seed after a dramatic rise that began with a fairytale run into the US Open main draw and ended with a second-week showdown with eventual champion Daniil Medvedev.
“It was really nice when I landed in New York for the first time last year,” he said. “I like the big city. I saw New York sometimes from movies or a series, so to finally be here was great. And this year should be even more interesting from last year when things were quieter due to Covid.”
Van de Zandschulp comes into the Open at a career-high No. 22 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and with a 28-21 record on the season. Last year, as the World No. 117, he rallied from a set down in all three qualifying matches, survived a five-setter in the first round of the main draw and then stunned then-World No. 11 Casper Ruud in the second round.
He also took out Diego Schwartzman in the fourth round before pushing Medvedev to four sets in the quarter-finals during his career-changing run. As he found time to reflect on the charge while vacationing in Dubai, where he went quad-biking, spent time at a water park and attended a friend’s wedding, it all began to sink in.
“The first couple days afterwards, I couldn’t really get it,” he recalled. “It’s tough; you go from 120 to 60 in the world in just a couple of weeks, you beat some great players there and for the first time you make quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. When I was done with the season, and I was on vacation and I had some more time to reflect on it, I could see how amazing it was then.”
If van de Zandschulp is a late-blooming Dutch tulip, it may be because he prioritised school over tennis during his teenage years. “I didn’t play the juniors, except for tournaments in Holland and once in Germany. I only started playing professionally when I was 19. For me and my parents it was more important for me to finish high school than [to play] tennis. In other countries, that’s different I think.
“But hopefully I still have a long career ahead. You see a lot of guys in their mid-30s still making good results. I want to play as long as I can on the Tour.”
For inspiration, van de Zandschulp need look no further than 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, who at 36 has the opportunity to reclaim the World No. 1 Pepperstone ATP Ranking at the US Open. After a strong run to the semi-finals at Queen’s, van de Zandschulp used his all-court game to charge into the Wimbledon fourth round, where he fell to the left-handed Spaniard.
“That was amazing. A first time for me on the Centre Court of Wimbledon, one of the best courts there is,” he said. “I played him already twice this year, you play such a big guy, he achieved so much during his career so it’s a great opportunity to play one of the Big Four.”
Van de Zandschulp says that he’s “living more like a professional than I did before,” focusing on better warm-up and cool-down routines and being more disciplined with his diet. More success has also opened up the opportunity to build a stronger team, which began with the hiring of former Dutch federation coach Peter Lucassen soon after last year’s US Open.
“I’m looking at some options for next year to work with a physio or physical guy,” he said. “In Holland, I practise with a guy from the National Tennis Federation; he does my physical stuff. Most of the time I’m travelling with Peter; my girlfriend is there sometimes. For now, the team is pretty small.
“I started working with Peter after the US Open. He was working at the Federation and we both wanted to work together and now he’s travelling full-time with me privately. Before the US Open, I had to be with the Federation to afford a coach; after the US Open I had more options. From there on, Peter and I are working together and it’s going well. Peter is a great coach, he is so detailed in tennis, he loves tennis, he has so much passion for it. I think we have a really good connection.”