Rewind, for a moment, to August 2021: Botic van de Zandschulp is in New York for the first time, set to begin his qualifying campaign at the US Open, while back in Europe Tim van Rijthoven is looking to cement his top-300 status with a good run of results on the ATP Challenger circuit.
How times change.
Sparked by his spellbinding run to the 2021 US Open quarter-finals, Van de Zandschulp – then the world No. 117 – has established himself as a top-25 player with runs to the third round or better at the other three majors and his first ATP final appearance this season.
A season spent travelling the ATP Tour by virtue of his higher ranking has done more than lift the 26-year-old to his new status as Dutch No. 1. Everything feels enhanced: his standard, his experience, his expectations, and his ability to play his game on the big stage.
“Over the last 12 months I’ve started to play in bigger stadiums with bigger crowds, and I’ve played against the players I’m going to face next week,” explains the world No. 22. “You practise sometimes with the players, you play matches against them, and I think it’s easier to play them for the second or third time than facing someone for the first time.
“Of course, the last 12 months were a great experience, and it’s going to help in conditions like this.”
The last 12 months were a great experience, and it’s going to help in conditions like this
Meanwhile, Van Rijthoven moved to the cusp of the top 100 after his own fairytale-from-qualifying story this summer, winning eight grass court matches in succession to claim the ’s-Hertogenbosch title before reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, playing as a wild card in both draws.
Among his victims: then-world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Americans Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka, before Novak Djokovic finally stopped him in London.
Van Rijthoven’s ranking would be higher than No. 117 but for the absence of points on offer at Wimbledon in 2022, making him a worthy contender for the No. 2 role in Paul Haarhuis’ side alongside Tallon Griekspoor, the world No. 46. Like Van de Zandschulp a year ago, his breakthrough has come at the age of 25, and with it a return to the Davis Cup fold six years on from his last appearance.
“To be part of the team after such a long time is the greatest feeling,” admitted Van Rijthoven, who played in two dead matches for the Dutch as a teenager in 2015 and 2016. “Since the grass season, a lot has changed – for the better. I just hope to be able to keep that level up.”
To be part of the team after such a long time is the greatest feeling
While US Open finalist Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop will be looking to keep their unbeaten doubles record together intact, competition is hot in the Dutch camp for the two singles berths. For his part, captain Paul Haarhuis is delighted with the headache his players are giving him before he even considers the Group D opposition in Glasgow.
“The other teams? I think we look at ourselves,” Haarhuis said. “We have a strong team, and we have confidence that we’re capable of doing well here. That’s our main goal: to qualify for Malaga at the end of the year. I think we can do that, even though we have very strong competition with Great Britain, USA and Kazakhstan.
“On paper we are maybe the third team, but it’s possible for every team to do well here. The arena is great – it’s perfect for holding an event like this. And with the big centre court and two practice courts there is enough room for every player and team to practise.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it – we’ve had good practice for the first couple of days, so we’re feeling good about ourselves.”