New York: Two trips to Grand Slam quarter-finals — including Sunday’s US Open upset of 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal — has taken any lingering sting out of Lucas Pouille’s failure to make France’s Olympic team.
“I’m looking forward,” the 22-year-old said, and well he might after prevailing in a scintillating fifth-set tiebreaker over Nadal, a player he’s admired since his youth.
He’s in the quarter-finals of a second straight Grand Slam, having also reached the last eight at Wimbledon — after missing the cut for the Rio Games team.
Although he remains in search of his first ATP Tour title — he reached his first final at Bucharest this year — Pouille is up from 78th in the world at the end of 2015 and knocking on the door of the top 20.
His biggest move in the rankings came in May, when he jumped from 52nd to 31 after reaching the semi-finals of the Rome Masters as a qualifier.
At Wimbledon he beat former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and Australian Bernard Tomic en route to the quarters, his first trip past the second round of a major in his 10th attempt.
After winning back-to-back five-setters in the second and third rounds at Flushing Meadows, he was ready to go the distance against Nadal.
“I knew if I wanted to win that, it’s not going to be like three sets, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. It would be long. So I was ready for it,” said the Frenchman.
Playing for the first time on the 22,000-seat Arthur Ashe stadium, Pouille was energized rather than intimidated.
He didn’t even warm up on the court, because it would have required coming to the grounds hours before his match.
Instead he drew on the experience he’s gained practicing with top players like Nadal, world number one Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
“I have practiced with all the best,” he said. “I think they’re all unbelievable, incredible. The way they work, they’re working so hard, and that’s why they’re here. There is no other reason. They’re talented as well, but so many players are.
“The way they are putting attention on every shot, they’re doing all perfectly.”
He was particularly impressed with the work ethic of former world number one Federer, sitting out the US Open with a view to returning at full strength in 2017 at the age of 35.
“He was working so hard, like four hours, then rest, then next day the same. To see that after a long career, all the success he has, it was great to see this,” Pouille said.
Like Federer, Pouille has set up a training base in Dubai. He has also begun working with his own physical trainer who travels with him to tournaments.
The physical improvements he’s felt have boosted his confidence.
“The way I’m going on court is not the same as last year,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m better than the year before.”
He’s satisfied with the progress, and with his attention focused on quarter-final foe Gael Monfils, happy to wait and see if his latest big win will prove to be a career-changer.
“It could maybe,” he said. “I will tell you in a few months or a few years.”