I totally expected Lucas Pouille to reach the 2019 Australian Open men’s singles semifinal.
No, I did not. In fact, I should be eating some crow after all but assuring the Frenchman’s failure Down Under.
Pouille, whom I referred to as a crashing meteor no less, had just been routinely defeated by Andrey Rublev 6-2 6-3 in Sydney. Prior to that, the Grande-Synthe native had dropped all three of his singles clashes at the Hopman Cup. Moreover, his final three matches in 2018 were losses as well. And, the cherry on top, let’s not forget the putrid 0-5 career singles main draw record at Melbourne Park.
Low expectations entering the Australian Open
As of January 10, the 24-year-old’s odds to win it all sat at a sky-high +15000 at Bovada Casino. Our buddies in Nevada thought world No. 105 Jack Sock was more likely to lift the singles trophy. Let that sink in.
On paper, the draw did not help Pouille’s aspirations. The list of players in his quarter included Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic, Borna Coric, Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, and Hyeon Chung.
After breezing through Mikhail Kukushkin in the Round of 128, Pouille squeaked by Max Marterer in four competitive sets. Later on, the Dubai resident survived a five-set thriller against the promising Alexei Popyrin. In the round of 16, the five-time ATP titleist overcame a rough start en route to his first win over Coric. Lastly, Pouille upended an in-form Raonic, whom he had never even managed to take a set from in three previous career meetings.
Seeing the slumping Pouille in the final four at the Australian Open is the second most unforeseeable thing to have happened in sports in 2019, trailing just FC Barcelona’s recruitment of Kevin-Prince Boateng 875 years past his prime.
The Frenchman, a former Wimbledon and US Open quarterfinalist, embraced the “Nobody Believes In Us” mantra and became the first player born in 1994 to make it to the penultimate round at a Major, according to Luca Brancher.
At press conference, Pouille made sure to credit his new coach Amelie Mauresmo.
“I think she’s bringing a lot of confidence to my game, to my personality, to my state of mind,” he said.
Next up: the Djoker
Despite the positive momentum he’s built over the last ten days, it would be shocking if Pouille made further progress. Waiting on the other side of the net on Friday will be top favorite Novak Djokovic. The pair have never squared off against each other, but the Serbian will enjoy a significant advantage on the backhand-to-backhand exchanges.
The 28th seed will need to serve bombs and reel off winner after winner if he wants to stand a chance. While he is one the purest shot-makers on tour, slim are the odds of Pouille outslugging Djokovic off the court over five sets.
If Pouille were to extend his dream run, upset Djokovic, and then a scorching hot Rafael Nadal in the final, it would be one of the most dramatic turnarounds in sports history.
While it would be reckless to bet on a Pouille title, the Frenchman deserves to be praised for his performance in Melbourne.
Embed from Getty Images