Golubev wins fans in taking his maiden title in Hamburg
Andrey Golubev became the third man to win his first ATP title this year, and did so in style by taking the 500 German Open in Hamburg on Sunday.
It is all the more impressive because the man from Kazakhstan has barely made it outside the Challenger circuit and the main tour’s qualifying rounds all season.
But it became clear, when he celebrated his 23rd birthday by beating top seed Nikolay Davydenko in the third round, that this fresh face had hit a real vein of form.
Golubev went on to beat Denis Istomin followed by home favourite Florian Mayer -who took him to his only tie-breaker of the tournament -before sealing a famous victory 6-3, 7-5 over second seed Jurgen Melzer. It also made him Kazakhstan’s first ever champion.
Austrian Melzer, currently enjoying a career-high ranking of 15 after reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros, was guilty of squandering five break points in the most tightly-contested game of the match at 3-2. But he was, in the end, firmly outplayed by the younger man. Indeed, Golubev did not drop a set all week.
Looking at the variety and quality of the Golubev game, it is hard to understand why he has not made greater inroads before.
He has an accurate and penetrating serve: in the Hamburg final he lost just five points on his own serve in the entire first set.
He has a forehand style not unlike that of Roger Federer, he is particularly fond of dancing around a baseline ball to take an off-forehand return. Such a play against the type of opponent he faced in Germany takes confidence and excellent footwork -and Golubev demonstrated both.
In another echo of Federer, he also boasts a single-handed backhand that seems as effective down the line as cross-court, particularly in its topspin iteration.
Although he coped with the play of Melzer on that wing, he will need to develop a counter-punching sliced backhand to make inroads against some of the bigger hitters now taking the tour by storm.
The likes of Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych and Juan MartÃƒÂn del Potro will cause him problems with their blistering pace, while Rafael Nadal will punish the Golubev single-hander, much as he does Federer’s, with his high bouncing, swerving forehand.
However, the Golubev backhand has a shorter back-swing and follow-through than Federer’s, rather in the mold of Stanislas Wawrinka’s, and it has the potential to become a very offensive weapon.
The final shot in the Golubev artillery is his volley, or rather his general willingness to attack the net with pleasing frequency.
He happily took overheads, slotted away backhand smashes and deployed the classic clay court drop-shot. He will need to develop a little more disguise and penetration in his overheads to beat the speed and anticipation of an Andy Murray or a Nadal, but the tools are there.
So Golubev is like a breath of fresh air. He has already promised much in his five years on the professional circuit. He reached a high of 56 in the rankings this time last year, then plummeted to the 140 mark in the autumn. But he has steadily regrouped and worked his way back up the table.
He is the same height as the fleet-footed Nadal and Federer but, thus far, lacks the lean muscularity that those two have honed. So perhaps that is his next target: the extra zip, sharpness and power that comes from perfect conditioning.
Add those qualities to the confidence he should draw from this title and from his rich range of shot-making, and Golubev could be another slow-burner, much as Soderling, Berdych and Ernests Gulbis have been, ready to shake up the men’s tour during the next 12 months.
Judging from the enthusiasm of the German crowd at each successive Golubev win this week, there is a real appetite for the attractive game he brings to the table.