WIMBLEDON, England -- Without Gael Monfils, who has missed the past two majors with a knee injury, The Championships at Wimbledon, like Roland Garros, is being deprived of the most exciting player in the game.
But a nice challenger to the throne is Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov. Dolgopolov, like Monfils, is a crowd favorite, given his dazzling display of showmanship at any moment. While Rafael Nadal practiced on Court 11 in front of swooning teenagers, next door on Court 7 Dolgopolov faced Alex Bogomolov Jr., an American turned Russian.
Dolgopolov is a fun but erratic player. You might often times even call him a genius with a variety of shots and surprising power. During warm-ups, Dolgopolov created a harmonic buzz with his backhand slice. And during the match, more of the same, with his athleticism at net and a power forehand that doesn't seem like it would belong to a guy who weighs just 160 pounds.
He is a dangerous player, but one whose bent-for-genius shot-making instead of steady play gets him in trouble. In the fourth round of last year's U.S. Open, he and Novak Djokovic played a terrific first-set tiebreaker that Djokovic escaped 16-14. Dolgopolov lost to Nadal at Indian Wells and Djokovic in Monte Carlo. Afterward, both of the world's two top players echoed the same theme: Dolgopolov will be electric. He will be terrific, but at some point his creativity and intermittent focus will lead to mistakes.
Hence, Dolgopolov's world ranking ranged this year from No. 13 to his current position of 21st.
Although Dolgopolov didn't disappoint Tuesday with a staggering array of drop shots, whistling forehands and backhand topspin lobs, events darkened quickly for Bogomolov, a talented grinder who has career wins over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to his credit. The clouds formed as Bogomolov surrendered three games in the first set, in which he owned multiple break points on Dolgopolov's serve and could not covert. After dropping the first set 6-4 and losing a couple of close calls, Bogomolov walked to his chair and dropped a conspiracy theory on chair umpire Pascal Maria: "Once again," Bogomolov said, "protect the big name. I get it."
As Dolgopolov frustrated Bogomolov with his line-kissing forehands, Bogomolov focused harder on Maria, at one point asking him, "Do you want to check my underwear?" after Maria chastised him for chucking a ball out of the stadium following an errant serve.
Before it was done and Dolgopolov walked away with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win, one exchange between the player and the chair umpire illustrated the afternoon for Bogomolov.
Bogomolov, following a Dolgopolov winner: "I didn't see any chalk fly on that one."
Maria: "Alex, it's not chalk. It's paint."
In between one point, Dolgopolov played a little hacky sack with the tennis ball, to the delight of the audience, rolling it to the top of his right toe, flipping it behind him and kicking it over the net with his left heel. Most encouraging for Dolgopolov is that he never lost serve. The flamboyance, however, is what won the crowd.