German Teen Molleker Making Most Of Opportunity In Heilbronn
Prior to this week, 17-year-old Rudolf Molleker had never won a match on the ATP Challenger Tour.
But now, the German youngster, appearing in just his third main draw at the Challenger level, has become the youngest finalist of 2018. At 17 years, seven months, he is the talk of the tournament in Heilbronn.
Expected to rise almost 100 places into the Top 400 of the ATP Rankings on Monday, Molleker defeated back-to-back seeded opponents to reach the semi-finals at the Heilbronner Neckarcup, where he overcame Argentina's Juan Ignacio Londero from a set down on Saturday. The German upset fourth-seeded countryman Yannick Hanfmann and seventh seed Alexey Vatutin, also in three sets, to make headlines at the ATP Challenger Tour’s 2017 Tournament of the Year.
“This is not expected,” admitted Molleker. “But I think that at the moment I'm playing very good tennis. I have now achieved three great wins and you can't say I was lucky. I know I can beat the top players. We've seen that. I just need to be more consistent.”
Inspired by World No. 3 Alexander Zverev, who won the title in Heilbronn in 2015, Molleker looks to follow in the footsteps of his surging countryman.
“Sascha is an absolutely exceptional player,” said Molleker. “Of course I hope that my career will be similar, but until then I still have a very long way to go.”
It is not just current German stars motivating the 17-year-old as he breaks through at the Challenger level. The Ukraine-born budding star also received advice from former World No. 1 Boris Becker during a recent German Tennis Federation seminar.
“We talked about the mental part of my tennis,” shared Molleker. “I know that I can have a good technique and strong game, but sometimes it just does not hit me mentally. Boris [Becker] has given me some tips on how to improve myself in this area. That's the part that I pay special attention to in the game.”
Despite the parallels to Zverev in Heilbronn and the attention from Becker, Molleker does not feel a sense of pressure as Germany’s latest #NextGenATP hope. The 6’1” right-hander displays maturity beyond his years, focusing instead on how the added attention can be a benefit to his career ambitions.
“I do not see that as pressure, but as possibility,” said Molleker. “Without this, I would not have received a wild card for the Neckarcup. I think I have justified the confidence placed in me by winning and I am glad that the tournament continues for me.”
The #NextGenATP German, who reached his first ATP World Tour main draw at the 2017 German Tennis Championships in Hamburg, plans to spend the majority of this season playing more Challenger events; a tier of the sport that Molleker possesses an added level of appreciation for.
“Together with my coach, we've decided that this year I will be mainly playing Challenger tournaments to earn points for the ATP Rankings. I am thankful to be given a wild card here in Heilbronn this week. My next highlight will be Roland Garros juniors in Paris. But I like it better in Challengers. Here, players do better to create points and there seems to be more of a system behind it. You know why you play each ball and where you hit it. I feel that is easier for me.”
Molleker will face World No. 81 Jiri Vesely in Sunday's championship clash. The teen is hoping his first Top 100 win will also bring a maiden title.
"This is a confirmation for me that I'm heading in the right direction. It pays off to work hard. I'm in a Challenger final. Not everyone can say that at my age. I will enjoy this."
- At 17 years and 6 months, Molleker is the youngest Challenger finalist this year. He is looking to become the first teenage winner this year as well.
- Molleker is the third player born in the year 2000 to reach a Challenger final, joining Felix Auger-Aliassime (Lyon & Sevilla 2017) and Nicola Kuhn (Braunschweig 2017).
- Last year, players aged 17 and under were undefeated (5-0) in Challenger finals. In addition to Auger-Aliassime and Kuhn, Wu Yibing won in Shanghai and Denis Shapovalov won in Drummondville, Canada.
- Molleker is the second German teenager to reach a Challenger final this year, joining Daniel Altmaier who finished runner-up in Burnie, Australia.
- Molleker is bidding to become the youngest German to win a Challenger title since Alexander Zverev in Braunschweig 2014. Sascha was 17 years, 2 months old.