The Biggest (Lucky) Loser; 2019 US Open Notebook

Andrzej Kentla/Magazyn Polonia

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief


NEW YORK — The concept of luck is explained by many as the result of one’s hard work and preparation intersecting with an opportunity that becomes available. In the men’s singles main draw at the 2019 US Open, luck goes by a different name: Kamil Majchrzak.

After two matches, 10 sets and almost seven grueling hours on the court, Poland’s Majchrzak, ranked No. 94 in the world, continues to turn his childhood dreams into an indelible reality for the very first time. Majchrzak built on his first-ever main draw victory in a Grand Slam on Monday by winning his second-consecutive five-setter on Thursday, defeating one-time top-20 player Pablo Cuevas to advance to the third round.

Not bad for the last man to make the tournament field.

Just six days prior to his win against Cuevas, Majchrzak’s hard work in attempting to participate in his second-ever Grand Slam as a professional appeared to be done in vain, losing in the final round of qualifying and needing some luck, via entry into the field as a lucky loser, to participate in the final Slam of 2019.

“One week ago, I was packing my stuff,” Majchrzak told A Lot of Sports Talk after his win over Cuevas. “I was about to fly back because I didn’t qualify to the main draw.”

By rule, the top four players (determined by world ranking) to lose in the final round of qualifying are drawn at random to potentially replace players in the main draw who withdraw before the start of a tournament as a lucky loser. In this particular lottery, Majchrzak’s name was drawn second.

Needing two dropouts between Friday night and Monday morning, Majchrzak was halfway to his reprieve when 2017 US Open finalist Kevin Anderson withdrew on Saturday afternoon due to a right knee injury. (Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi, who was drawn first in the lucky loser lottery, became a main draw entry.) No other withdrawals occurred that day.

On Sunday, and just 15 hours and 20 minutes before the official start of the tournament, it was announced that Milos Raonic had pulled out of the US Open with a glute injury. That event turned out to be the final withdrawal on the men’s side of the tournament before its onset. The player who was drawn as the third lucky loser officially had his stay in Queens end.

In other words: Hard work, I’d like you to meet opportunity.

“I got the second chance because I play as a lucky loser, and I’m using it,” Majchrzak said. “I’m using my luck, I hope. I will keep going.”

Majchrzak’s only other Grand Slam singles match before this week was the definition of bad luck. Against fan favorite and No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori at this year’s Australian Open in January, Majchrzak won the first two sets, 6-3, 7-6 (6), before the searing heat Down Under got the best of him. Cramping in his his right hand and left thigh set in during the third set and Majchrzak, visibly affected by the oppressive elements, eventually retired in the fifth set while down 0-3.

Before Monday, Majchrzak competed in just five ATP Tour-level matches in 2019, winning one. (Andrzej Kentla/Magazyn Polonia)

“The first [Grand Slam match] is always difficult. Once you get the first one, then it’s a little bit easier,” Majchrzak said after his win against Jarry on Monday. “I was waiting for this for a long time. I was up 2-0 up against Nishikori, but I didn’t it handle it mentally, physically. That was a great experience for me, so I could use it.”

The experience from Australia, as physically and emotionally painful as it was, paid off in America. Majchrzak pulled out a five-set victory in round one against Jarry, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6), 1-6, 6-4, in three hours and 40 minutes. Unlike the match against Nishikori, played in temperatures hovering around 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) in the afternoon, Majchrzak’s match against Jarry was played in cool conditions as the final match on Court 4.

Was the more comfortable weather a stroke of luck for the lucky loser, perhaps?

“The conditions are completely different. Maybe I was lucky because I played during the night,” Majchrzak said in comparing his match on Monday to the Nishikori match in Melbourne. “It was dark, it wasn’t that hot. Maybe that was an advantage.”

Majchrzak continued to take advantage of his good fortune yesterday, coming back from a two-sets-to-one deficit against Cuevas in three hours and 17 minutes. Coincidentally enough, the difference in the match came down to fitness, with Majchrzak spryly running around the court all match while Cuevas barely chased balls down during a fifth set that lasted just 26 minutes.

“He was leading. He was always up. In the fifth set, he seemed he was physically not fit enough to play and I just took advantage of it,” Majchrzak said.

It is undeniable that luck has played a key role in Majchrzak’s maiden voyage into the third round of a major as a professional, but success in New York City is not a fluke — nor is it novel. In 2013, Majchrzak won the US Open boys’ doubles tournament alongside fellow Pole Martin Redlicki. Since then, Majchrzak has toiled in the challenger circuit, only able to break into the top 200 for the first time, at 199, at the end 2017. To begin this year, Majchrzak started at 184.

Majchrzak’s two wins in New York are more than just the realizations of a boyhood dream, however; He is guaranteed $163,000 for making the third round of the US Open, almost as much money earned as he had made for the entirety of 2019 before this week. If Majchrzak wins his third-round match on Friday against Grigor Dimitrov, his check will increase to $280,000 from US Open winnings alone. Since turning pro in 2014, Majchrzak has earned a grand total of $399,240.

More wins, especially in major tournaments, equals more money, and the ability to hire on and/or retain top-flight personnel onto his team. More wins equals more rankings points as well, which means the ability to enter higher-profile tournaments — and, in turn, possibly win more matches and earn the money needed to sustain himself and his team on tour.

The rain that cancelled all of the matches slated for the outer courts on Day 3, while giving Majchrzak an extra day before his second-round match, could turn out to be bad luck since he must play Dimitrov without the luxury of a day off. Majchrzak has admitted that he has ridden his luck, but there are a couple of other emotions and feelings that he is overcome with as he continues his life-changing Grand Slam run.

“I’m happy and tired,” Majchrzak said. “I’m more happy. I cannot be tired because I must be ready for tomorrow.”

If Majchrzak does make it into the Round of 16 and becomes the first man at the US Open to make the fourth round of the men’s singles draw as a lucky loser since the turn of the century, there is one word that surely would not describe that feat: lucky.

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