As it turns out, Alex Molcan’s narrow win over Félix Auger-Aliassime earlier in the week in Marrakech was a sign of things to come.
The 24-year-old lefty from Slovakia used that momentum to get all the way to the final, after upsetting No. 8 seed Laslo Djere in straight sets in Saturday’s semifinal.
There, he will meet another unseeded player, but one with a more impressive pedigree: Belgium’s David Goffin.
The two met once before … and Open Court happened to be there to witness a pretty dramatic win by Molcan.
Rain, at a most inopportune time
Granted, early-2022 Goffin wasn’t vintage Goffin. Still, at No. 39 he was the highest-ranked player Molcan had ever faced.
And he had him on the ropes at 7-5, 5-3, serving for the match in his first tournament of the year on site at Melbourne Park.
And then … the rain came.
Those are often turnaround moments, with the veteran coming back after a delay with a second lease on life.
Clearly Molcan (dressed in Nike at the time, Bidi Badu now) wasn’t superstitious. He came out in a completely different shirt. And he quickly went down 0-40 on his serve.
But then, he ended up pulling out the match – a big win for him.
(Molcan has since defeated Lloyd Harris, ranked higher at No. 35).
Here’s what it looked like.
Another huge moment at Flushing Meadows
As it happens, because we try to be five places at once, Open Court also was witness to the most dramatic victory of Molcan’s young career.
It came in the final round of qualifying at last year’s US Open, against Gastao Elias of Portugal.
It was a brutally hot day. One of those days that can hit in New York (and certainly did last year during the qualifying).
It goes without saying that these final-round qualifying matches are fraught anyway. Reaching the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament can be a game-changer. And Molcan had never done it.
It was only the second time in his career that Molcan had even played the qualifying at a major.
The first time, earlier that summer at Wimbledon, he lost 7-5 in the fifth set to Frenchman Quentin Halys. Molcan had been down two sets to none, evened it at 2-2, and then lost the heartbreaker.
He was down match points in the third-set tiebreak in New York to Elias, a former top junior whose pro career has yet to reach those heights.
And then … he won four straight points to take the match. And make the main draw.
Here’s what it looked like.
Glorious win for Molcan, devastating defeat for Elias
You can see by the “after” pics just how hot it was, and just how depleted both of them were.
More than half an hour after that devastating loss, Elias was still sitting on the steps leading up to the second level of the practice court/Courts 4-5-6 structure at the USTA National Tennis Centre.
He hadn’t moved. His head was still in his hands. And the supporters around him couldn’t find a single thing to say that might console him.
(I didn’t pap’ poor Elias at the time, even though it would have been a photo that would paint a thousand words, in terms of the flipside of vistory).
Molcan had a great US Open after that.
The US Open breakthrough was a springboard to a nice rankings bump, and a super payday ($180,000 – nearly doubling Molcan’s career earnings to that point).
First big move: a final in Serbia
Molcan also had a great run at Novak Djokovic’s tournament in Serbia last May, going from the qualifying all the way to the final before facing the man himself.
He was ranked No. 255 at the time, after beginning the 2021 season outside the top 300. That effort gave him wings; No. 181 after making the final, he was up to No. 138 by the time the US Open rolled around three months later.
A new career high for Molcan
Molcan should break the top-50 with the run to the Marrakech final.
If he wins, he’ll jump to the low 40s just in time to perhaps squeeze into the main draw in Rome, whose deadline is Monday.
It’s a good consolation prize for not being able to get to the qualifying in Monte Carlo this weekend.
He’s not a rock star in the making or anything. But he’s a tribute to persistence. And beyond that, he’s also a fun guy to watch – fast, and super-expressive on the court.