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Tennis

Wild Cards Don’t Get Much Wilder Than Tim van Rijthoven

Netherlands' Tim van Rijthoven celebrates winning against Georgia's Nikoloz Basilashvili at the end of their men's singles tennis match on the fifth day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 1, 2022.
Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images

It’s astonishing enough that 25-year-old Tim van Rijthoven had never played before at Wimbledon, where he now finds himself in the fourth round. It’s something else to learn that he had never won any tour-level match before this past June.

The Dutchman’s dream run popped off at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, a 250-level event that opens grass season and tends to attract a strong field tuning up for Wimbledon. As a local player, van Rijthoven received a wild card. Players in that situation would be happy to come away with one win, but the ensuing upsets read like increasingly absurd tennis Mad Libs.

In the second round, van Rijthoven took out world No. 12 Taylor Fritz, the Indian Wells champ who wound up having a superb grass season of his own. In the fourth round, he took out world No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was fresh off taking Rafael Nadal five sets at the French Open. In the final, van Rijthoven dismantled world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 6-1, breaking the big-serving Russian four times.

There are lots of excellent players who toil for a decade and never win a title at all. Van Rijthoven, who had never even won a title at the Challenger level, lifted the trophy on the same week as his first-ever win, and he beat three of the best players on tour to do it. Taken altogether, TVR’s maiden title might be the most surreal scene in men’s tennis this season:

One week of tennis was enough to launch his world rank from No. 205 to 104, and to earn a well-deserved wild card for Wimbledon this week. In the first round, van Rijthoven sent home Federico Delbonis, a good result but not altogether surprising, given that the clay-court specialist is a career 0-13 on turf. But his second-round conquest was genuinely impressive: No. 15 seed Reilly Opelka, the ascendant servebot, put him through a tiebreak gauntlet. TVR actually won 90 percent of his first serve points, better than Opelka’s 79 percent, in a four-set victory. He kept rolling on Friday, needing just an hour and 42 minutes to dispatch No. 22 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Van Rijthoven has the grass court essentials—a powerful serve that’s proven difficult to break, an extremely effective slice to keep the ball low—and his groundstrokes and volleys are solid enough to cohere. Why is he playing so well, and why right now? His own explanation is awfully simple: “It’s basically a sum-up of a lot of hard work, a lot of belief, and eventually very positive vibes just going into matches and going into practices.” Van Rijthoven will need to rest up and redouble the vibes, which will be stress-tested by his fourth-round matchup on Sunday: Novak Djokovic.