07 Jan Delray’s Tommy Paul Races to Round Two
By STEVE DORSEY
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Tommy Paul still is looking to capture his first title on the ATP Tour since turning pro five years ago. But if you’re looking for a sleeper outside the top four seeds at this week’s Delray Beach Open by VITACOST.com, Paul is one player to keep an eye on.
The 23-year-old American kick-started his 2021 season Thursday afternoon with a 6-1, 6-4 win against Korean Ji Sung Nam on the Stadium Court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. The former world No. 3 junior enters the new season with a career-high No. 52 world ranking. He notched a personal-best 15 victories in 2020, including his biggest career win when he defeated No. 7-ranked Alexander Zverev at Acapulco.
Paul is the No. 5 seed here this week and in the bottom half of the singles draw that includes No. 2 seed John Isner and No. 3 Adrian Mannarino. Paul’s aggressive style of play against Nam on Thursday could be a strategy capable of pulling off a couple upsets and earning him that coveted first ATP Tour title.
“That was the idea, but I actually volleyed terrible today so that’s something I’ve got to do better my next round,” Paul said of his aggressive approach that notched him a spot in the second round where he will face the winner of tonight’s match between Koean Soonwoo Kwon and fellow American Sebastian Korda.
Paul dominated the first set against Nam, who seemed to find his range in the second set but couldn’t overcome Paul’s strong groundstrokes to pull off an early upset. Paul admitted after the match that he wasn’t sure what to expect in his first match of the season, especially against an opponent he said he knew little about.
“Kind of just getting a feel for how I’m playing,” Paul said.
This year’s tournament is allowing only about a fourth of the Stadium Court’s capacity because of Covid-19 precautions in place, but Paul enjoys a home-court advantage nonetheless. The New Jersey native now lives in Delray Beach, affording his fans an opportunity to come cheer him on.
“It’s amazing to be able to bring friends from Delray or to drive up from Miami and come watch me,” Paul said. “It’s nice because if it’s somewhere else, even in the United States, you don’t always get a home crowd cheering for you, so this really does feel like a home tournament.”
Gianluca Mager closed out the afternoon session on the Stadium Court by rallying from a set down to beat American wild card Ryan Harrison 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Mager’s ATP Tour resume lists “impatience” as his worst quality, but the 26-year-old Italian didn’t allow that trait to affect him in his comeback against Harrison.
Harrison, who three years ago reached a career-high No. 40 world ranking, had no answer for Mager’s more aggressive play in the second set, which Mager won with three consecutive aces in the seventh game. Harrison had a chance to knot the third set at 5-5, but Mager saved all six break points in the 10th game and took the set and match. He incredibly saved 12 of 13 match points in the match.
“The first set, I tried not to make mistakes,” Mager said of his cautious play early in the match. “Second set, I tried to focus on my serve and I tried to push the ball and I played much better. My level of play was much better in the second set.”
Mager next will face the winner of Thursday’s late match between No. 6 seed Sam Querrey and fellow American Mackenzie McDonald.