Saturday, September 29, 2012

Two magical weeks changed Nielsen's life

Wimbledon men's doubles champion Frederik Nielsen
practices Saturday at the Natomas Racquet Club
in Sacramento. Photo by Paul Bauman
   SACRAMENTO, Calif. After three months, the glow remains.
   It probably always will.
   During a practice session Saturday at the Natomas Racquet Club, Frederik Nielsen joked to a shirtless player on the adjacent court, "If you're topless, you gotta make that shot."
   After the workout, it took Nielsen about 15 minutes to make the short walk back to the clubhouse as he stopped to chat amiably with fellow pros.
   Once inside the locker room, Nielsen happily granted an interview to a reporter and encouraged him to "ask anything you want."
   Until late June, the Danish veteran was a journeyman pro playing in the shadow of his grandfather, two-time Wimbledon runner-up Kurt Nielsen, not to mention countrywoman and former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Nielsen had toiled mostly in tennis' minor leagues at distant outposts around the world for 11 grueling years.
   But after two magical weeks, Nielsen will be known for the rest of his life as a Wimbledon champion. He and Jonathan Marray became the first wild cards in the revered tournament's 135-year history to win the men's doubles title.
   As if the fairy tale needed any more drama, Nielsen felt a pop in his left wrist late in the second set of the five-set final against Robert Lindstedt of Sweden and Horia Tecau of Romania. But Nielsen, who's right-handed with a two-handed backhand, said a CT scan later showed no major damage.  
   So how much has Nielsen's life changed?
   "Well, obviously it's changed a little bit. You're here talking to me, and you probably wouldn't be (otherwise)," the 29-year-old Nielsen, who received a wild card to play singles in next week's $100,000 RelyAid Natomas Challenger, cracked to the reporter.
   Turning serious, he said: "Even in Denmark, people didn't know who I was. And the ones who (did) couldn't really relate to it. But it's (a tournament) everyone can relate to because basically everyone knows Wimbledon."
   There also have been practical advantages.
   "It made a big difference for my doubles ranking," said Nielsen, who soared from No. 111 to No. 24 with the title and is now No. 22 after reaching the final in Metz, France, last week. "That's obviously giving me the chance to play all the doubles tournaments that I want, but that's not really what I'm trying to do. My schedule is roughly gonna be the same.
   "But it goes without saying that it's gonna give me some new opportunities. There's a good chance we're gonna play the (ATP) World Tour Finals (for the top eight doubles teams of the year), and it opens up some other doors. So (my life) definitely has changed, but I don't feel different. Sometimes I have to remind myself (that it has changed) because I keep forgetting."
   Nielsen didn't mention money, but the $210,000 he pocketed for winning the Wimbledon title represents 37 percent of his career earnings of $563,585.  
   Nielsen insisted that winning Wimbledon was not more meaningful because of his grandfather's appearance in the 1953 and 1955 singles finals there.
   "Wimbledon is big enough by itself," said Nielsen, the first Dane to win a Wimbledon title. "It's the pinnacle of our sport. I think if you ask most tennis players what tournament they want to win, they would say Wimbledon. It's the same for me. It's obviously fun and a great side fact that my granddad did well there back in the days, but the fact that it's Wimbledon is big enough."
   Marray and Nielsen received a wild card because Marray is British.
   "He could pick whoever he wanted to play with," Nielsen said. "We had played a Challenger a few weeks before where we played really, really well together (cruising to the Nottingham final before narrowly losing). A hundred or 120 other people already were in the (Wimbledon men's doubles) draw, so he didn't really have that many to pick from. They were all roughly around my ranking, so it's not like he had an obvious choice. I think the fact that we played really well together made him believe that it's better to take a chance with me knowing what we were capable of instead of playing with somebody for the first time." 
   Nielsen cited three reasons that he and Marray, a 31-year-old doubles specialist who had been ranked No. 76, marched to the title. In the semifinals, they stunned Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the best men's doubles team of all time.
   "The biggest reason is we were able to completely enjoy and make the most of the experience," Nielsen said. "I was just ecstatic that I was able to play Wimbledon. I had never played Wimbledon in my life (except in qualifying).
  "Second, we weren't trying to win Wimbledon. I think that was key, as well. We weren't really worried about it. We were just trying to play the best we could, see how far it was going to take us and enjoy the moment. I wasn't going to let anything ruin the moment or ruin the experience of playing Wimbledon.
   "We didn't expect much anyway, so when we got into tough situations in the last few matches, we were just happy we were there. We didn't change our mentality just because we were close to the win. We were just trying to stay positive, play aggressive tennis and do what got us there.
   "Last of all, we get along really well. We had fun on the court together. We have roughly the same (temperament) and approach in tennis. That's key in doubles. We were a good match on the court. It definitely helps in doubles when you have good chemistry."    
   Ironically, Nielsen will play singles only in Sacramento. He plans to try to qualify for the Tiburon Challenger in singles the following week, which could have created a conflict next weekend with doubles in Sacramento.
   "Singles will always have priority, and I'll build my doubles around that," said Nielsen, who reached the singles quarterfinals of the Sacramento Challenger two years ago before losing to eventual champion John Millman of Australia 6-0, 6-3. "That's what gives me joy and pleasure. That's the reason I'm playing tennis.
   "I play tennis for singles and doubles. I'm not ready to sacrifice one for the other. I see myself as a tennis player, not a singles player or a doubles player."
   Nielsen is ranked No. 352 in singles, down from his career high of No. 190 in August last year. In addition to his wrist injury, he pulled a muscle in his ribe cage last spring. But injuries have been only part of the problem.
   "I've never been top 100 (in singles), so obviously something has held me back," said the 6-foot-3, 168-pound Nielsen, who's nicknamed "The Turtle" for his deliberate ways off the court. "It's a long journey, and I was not very good as a junior. It takes some people longer to find their way. I've been trying my best, but obviously I haven't done the right things.
   "I feel the last year or two have been very productive. It's a learning process. I think I was many years behind all the other guys physically, mentally and tactically. I've had to build that up. Tennis is not easy."
   Now, though, Nielsen will have something to tell his grandchildren.                    
   Sacramento qualifying — Eighth-seeded Nicolas Meister of Trabuco Canyon in the Los Angeles area saved two match points and edged Chris Guccione of Australia 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the first round of qualifying for the RelyAid Natomas Challenger.
   Guccione, a 6-foot-7 left-hander, has plunged to No. 572 in the world after reaching a career-high No. 67 in 2008. Meister completed his eligibility at UCLA in May following an All-America career. ...
   Mackenzie McDonald, a 17-year-old wild card from Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, dispatched Drew Courtney of Clifton, Va., 6-2, 6-2. McDonald overcame a huge size disadvantage against Courtney, who won the 2010 NCAA doubles title as a Virginia sophomore with Michael Shabaz. McDonald is 5-9 and 140 pounds, Courtney 6-5 and 205. ...
   Jason Jung of Torrance ousted sixth-seeded Austin Krajicek of Brandon, Fla., 7-6 (5), 6-1. Jung, a former Michigan standout, turned pro in January only because he was laid off after one month at an oil company in Torrance and didn't do as well on the law school admission test as he had hoped. Krajicek won the 2011 NCAA doubles title with fellow Texas A&M senior Jeff Dadamo over Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher of Stanford. Thacher avenged that loss by beating Dadamo 6-4, 6-3 Saturday in Natomas qualifying.
In Sacramento, Calif.
First-round qualifying 
A Pavic (CRO) d M Santiago (USA) 75 63
J Jung (USA) d A Krajicek (USA) 76(5) 61
D Britton (USA) d [WC] Z Hindle (USA) 64 60
N Meister (USA) d C Guccione (AUS) 16 63 76(3)
P Simmonds (USA) d [WC] L Rosenberg (USA) 62 63
R Thacher (USA) d J Dadamo (USA) 64 63
S Ianni (ITA) d [WC] B Sutter 63 46 61
A Daescu (ROU) d [WC] C Altamirano (USA) 60 60
[WC] M McDonald (USA) d A Courtney (USA) 62 62
[WC] L Singh (USA) d [WC] S Kolar (USA) 63 61
A Hubble (AUS) d [WC] N Andrews (USA) 64 62
L Gregorc (SLO) d [WC] O Morel (FRA) 61 61 
Today's schedule
(Beginning at 10 a.m.)
Qualifying - A Bossel (SUI) vs. P Simmonds (USA)
Qualifying - G Jones (AUS) vs [WC] M Mcdonald (USA) 
Court 1
Qualifying - L Gregorc (SLO) vs N Meister (USA) 
Qualifying - [WC] L Singh (USA) vs D Britton (USA) 
Court 2
Qualifying - R Thacher (USA) vs A Pavic (CRO) 
Qualifying - A Daescu (ROU) vs J Jung (USA) 
Court 6
Qualifying - F Wolmarans (RSA) vs A Hubble (AUS) 
Qualifying - T Daniel (JPN) vs S Ianni (ITA)

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