There was a touching moment in the bowels of the All England Club on Tuesday, seen by only a few. As Yuichi Sugita sat and waited in the corridor for the start of his first press conference as a match winner at a Grand Slam championship, the great champion Roger Federer stopped by to congratulate the Japanese on his recent success.
Sugita, who has plied his trade since 2003, was visibly touched. It was a sign of mutual respect between pros, one the winner of an Open Era record 85 matches at The Championships, the other starting to make his mark on the ATP World Tour in 2017.
At 28 years of age, Sugita has been a solid performer on the ATP Challenger Tour circuit – already a winner of three titles this year (nine overall) – but in recent months, since dropping to No. 134 in late February, the Japanese has seen his hard work pay off.
Fuelled by the Japanese cooking of his mother, Sugita recorded his first match win at a major on Tuesday in beating Brydan Klein 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-0 in two hours and seven minutes.
“I played really well in the second and third,” Sugita, who was not broken and hit 29 winners, told ATPWorldTour.com. “He drop-shotted me a lot in the first set, and it was really difficult to play against him at first. But after the second set, I began to dominate.”
Training hard on and off the practice courts has effected a rise up the Emirates ATP Rankings – ever since he capitalised on a lucky loser spot – following the withdrawal of his compatriot Kei Nishikori – at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. He beat Tommy Robredo, Richard Gasquet and Pablo Carreno Busta – all no slouches on red dirt – before falling to eventual finalist Dominic Thiem.
That run, importantly, has given the softly spoken Sugita access to ATP World Tour tournaments on a regular basis.
“Before I was really up and down,” said Sugita. “Sometimes I played well, but sometimes I didn’t and tennis is a tournament, you have to win multiple matches.”
“Before, I had to play a lot of tournaments to really catch Rankings points. I was also thinking a lot, too much. But now, I am able to have good training blocks and the work I undertook from last year has carried over in 2017.”
In winning the Antalya Open last week, his first ATP World Tour title, Sugita completed the “most emotional week of his career”. As the third Japanese to win a tour-level title – joining Shuzo Matsuoka (1992 Seoul) and Nishikori (11 titles) – Sugita has risen to a career-high No. 44 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. Read Final Report
“Now I can play five matches,” said Sugita. “I know I can win a tournament. I can focus on five matches – this is a really big important improvement in my mental approach to tennis.”
Sugita will now challenge France’s Adrian Mannarino – the player he beat in the Antalya final on Saturday.