Does Jan-Lennard Struff Have The Right Stuff?
While Roger Federer defies father time, winning his 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open, in addition to the sunshine double at the age of thirty-five, and the ATP World Tour anoints rising stars under the age of twenty-one and ranked within the top 200 as NextGen, those seemingly forgotten players in limbo, age 25 thru 29, are demanding recognition.
Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion and world number seven, recently won his first clay court title in five years in Istanbul at the age of twenty-eight. Last season the Croat defeated Andy Murray in straight sets to claim his first ATP Masters 1000 title at Cincinnati, and his second title of the season in Basel where he defeated Kei Nishikori, also in straights.
Jan-Lennard Struff, a twenty-seven-year-old German is making news of his own despite living in the shadow of NextGen superstar and countryman, Alexander Zverev. Perhaps he is motivated by the twenty-year-old Zverev’s steady ascent up the rankings. Struff finished last season ranked world no. 66 and just five months into the current season, has achieved a career high ranking of forty-four.
After losing the first set on the red clay at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Struff defeated a resurgent and world number eleven, Grigor Dimitrov before losing to the Argentine, Diego Schwartzman in the round of 16.
The highlight of his current season, without question, is his quarter-final finish at the BMW Open in Germany earlier this month. He would play two Germans en route to the quarters, one of which was former world number two, Tommy Haas. Despite a multitude of surgeries, Haas is still winning matches at the age of thirty-nine and yet has previously announced he would officially retire at the end of the season.
In the following round, Struff would do battle with another countryman, world no. 20, Alexander Zverev. Struff most definitely had the stuff to defeat Zverev and pushed him to the edge in a compelling, hard-fought match that went the distance. After winning the first set 6-3, Struff faltered but just barely in the next two which were decided by tiebreakers.
While clay is his favorite surface, he also has performed well on hard courts this season. In January, at the Qatar ExonMobil Open in Doha, he drew the defending champion and world no. 2, Novak Djokovic in the first round. Although he lost in straight sets, the German did force a first set tiebreaker.
At the season’s first slam at the Australian Open, he took a set off world no. 8, Dominic Thiem in the opening round and in Miami, he dismantled former top ten player Gilles Simon, 6-1, 6-1 before losing in the following round to Argentine, Federico Delbonis.
At 6’5”, Struff moves exceedingly well for his height and uses it to his advantage when serving. While his forehand penetrates the court and is quite reliable, admittedly, his two-handed backhand is particularly lethal, not to mention his favorite shot.
Struff will next compete on the dirt at the Foro Italico having just qualified for main draw play at the Italian Open. With a win/loss record of 11-10 this season, it would appear he has the right stuff to continue his recent upward trajectory.