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From college in America to ATP tour triumphs, Arthur Rinderknech’s meteoric rise
The 26-year-old Frenchman, who reached the final of an ATP tournament for the first time in Adelaide, is moving steadily up the rankings. He beat world No 12 Denis Shapovalov on Thursday in Doha. This feature was originally published in January 2022
“His progress is not ordinary, it’s going pretty fast. Very fast, in fact.”
These are the words of Sébastien Villette, the coach from Rennes, who is convinced of the potential of his charge, Arthur Rinderknech, but remains cautious in expressing it.
“Arthur awkwardly says that he has no limits. But he does: he may be at his limit (48th in the ATP rankings in January), he may not be there at all. We don’t think like that.”
Tall (1.96m, or six feet and four inches), right-handed and 26 years old, Rinderknech continues to surprise, while knocking out an increasing number of opponents with his serve. On a Saturday in January, he reached the final of the ATP 250 Adelaide 2 – the first senior final of his career – and followed that up on the Tuesday by beating Alexei Popyrin in front of his home crowd in the first round of the Australian Open before withdrawing from his second-round match with a right wrist injury. This was hardly imaginable four years ago, when he was not even in the top 1000.
Back in 2014, the son of Virginie Paquet – ranked 208th in the world in 1989 – and solid national player Pascal Rinderknech did not feel ready to try to break through on the Tour, so he headed for the United States and Texas A&M University.
“I don’t think I was even determined to be a professional player,” he says. “But throughout my four years there, I developed this desire, I did what I had to do to progress, I got older and started to be more mature.”
There, coached by former world number 12 Steve Denton, Rinderknech got stronger in team matches. Sometimes he was pushed by his audience, sometimes he was booed outside by opposition fans: “It was the right time to go for it.”
Rinderknech’s ATP rankings
- 2015: not ranked
- 2016: 1032
- 2017: 1066
- 2018: 423
- 2019: 343
- 2020: 178
- 2021: 58
- 2022 (January): 48
Rinderknech returned to France in 2018, aged 22 – first at the CNE, which he eventually left to join Sébastien Villette in Saint-Grégoire, a suburb of Rennes, at the end of 2019. From the beginning, the two had great chemistry, and the results were not long in coming. Then 328th in the world, Rinderknech sent himself “home” to the Rennes Challenger, then to Calgary, in March 2020. His ultra-offensive tennis put many opponents to shame. He was ranked 160th in the world, and all set to break into the top 100.
But Rinderknech’s momentum was cut short by Covid and the world locking down. He is one of the victims of the ranking freeze – those players who did not progress as far up the world rankings as expected, those who made a very good start to the 2021 season without managing to break into the 100. He admitted he was disgruntled when in May he was in the top 50 of the Race to Turin, but 124th in the ATP rankings.
He did not stop working or achieving good results – and in mid-July, he finally broke the 100 barrier after another quarter-final in Bastad (Sweden).
“It wasn’t easy, this rule lasted for a while,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. We had to deal with it.”
But, of course, it didn’t favour those who were looking to overtake higher-ranked players. Rinderknech did not linger on the problem, focusing instead on the next targets.
“[Being in the top 100] is already a very nice stage, but I hope that it is only a stage,” he confided, as down-to-earth as ever.
Arthur Rinderknech has done everything to be in this circle. 178th at the beginning of 2021, he conquered a third Challenger in Istanbul before quickly reaching the quarters of an ATP 250 in Marseille.
“He came out of the qualifiers and beat Davidovich Fokina,” says his coach. “He had never met players of that level. He had a match point against Humbert…It was the beginning.”
Rinderknech and Villette like to work in stages. A lucky loser in Lyon in May 2021, the player found himself in the quarter-finals of an ATP tournament again, beating Jannik Sinner in the round of 16, then ranked 17th – his first top 20 scalp. A few months later, there was a second one, Roberto Bautista Agut at the Swiss Open in Gstaad.
“He’s capable of competing with these guys,” Villette said.
Rinderknech’s biggest wins
- Roberto Bautista Agut: world No 16 (Gstaad, July 2021)
- Jannik Sinner: 17 (Lyon, May 2021)
- Karen Khachanov: 30 (Adelaide 2, January 2022)
- Filip Krajinovic: 33 (Kitzbühel, July 2021)
- Dusan Lajovic: 33 (Antwerp, October 2021)
The main tour, rather than the Challenger Tour, is becoming Rinderknech’s playground.
“To be in the 100, you have to be able to beat these players, to play the big tournaments. If you have the ranking to play the ATPs, you have to play them and keep moving forward,” Rinderknech explains.
His coach agrees: “He was very good in the Challenger. He hardly ever lost to players above the top 100. We don’t calculate the number of points, we don’t care! I want him to play against the best players to see what he lacks.”
The 2021 season was impressive, with a semi-final and six quarters in the ATP 250, his first Davis Cup selection – he took a set from Cameron Norrie – and his first Grand Slam match win, at the US Open, after three first-round losses earlier in the year, in particular a painful 13-12 defeat in the fifth set against Oscar Otte at Wimbledon.
“It was a very difficult couple of nights thinking about it, replaying the match,” he confessed.
At Flushing Meadows, he was down two sets to none to Kecmanovic before winning the match with all his might and despite cramps.
“It was just fantastic! I played the match 100 times in exactly the same conditions, I didn’t win it once. It was terribly hard, but so satisfying and enjoyable!”
He knows his statistics by heart. “After four quarter-finals, I was impatient to reach the milestone [of a semi-final]. [I had] the same impatience in the Grand Slam, and I managed to win.”
On the ATP Tour, Rinderknech has now reached a new milestone: a final in Adelaide in his first tournament of the year 2022. But he will have to wait to open his record as a tour champion. Home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis, winner of a tough battle (6-7, 7-6, 6-3), prevented him from doing so. Given his level of play, the opportunity should come again in the next few months. “I am satisfied with the content, there is a real progression. The things we worked on during the winter are working,” said Villette afterwards.
A second week in a Grand Slam soon?
At the start of the 2022 season, Villette wanted his protégé to take the game even more seriously.
“The goal is to have as few weaknesses as possible that can be exploited by the others,” explains the coach. “If the opponents have no weaknesses to exploit, he can use his strengths: his serve and his forehand. Let him be in steamroller mode. If you don’t put him in danger, then you just have to play.”
Rinderknech’s coach added: “It’s a giant puzzle where he’s added pieces that were missing. After that, once you have the pieces, you have to put them together.”
He has done that well so far this year with three wins over top 60 players and a good win over world No 30 Karen Khachanov (formerly eighth in the world) in Adelaide 2. He was ranked 48th in the world ahead of the Australian Open. The next step is probably to get a second week in a major.