“The main priority is to get into the main draw, to play with the big guys. That’s the pressure.”
So says Yannick Hanfmann, who gave a stark reminder of the strength-in-depth of the ATP Tour on Tuesday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where the World No. 101 upset sixth seed Andrey Rublev 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 to reach his maiden ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final in Rome.
Hanfmann is accustomed to having to earn the right to take on Top 10 opponents like Rublev. The No. 101-ranked German has qualified for a Tour-leading six main draws in 2023, including at back-to-back Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. His two-hour, 33-minute fourth-round win against the World No. 6, the biggest win of the 31-year-old’s career, was his sixth match in nine days at the Foro Italico.
“It can go two ways,” Hanfmann told ATPTour.com earlier this month when asked about competing as a qualifier in main draws. “It can be a little bit like [you are] wearing out, playing tough matches in qualifying, and then maybe it’s a little bit of a negative.
“But [in Madrid, for example], I qualified [with] two fairly straightforward matches. So [I felt] good. I [knew] the conditions at an event where it’s tough to play. So I think that’s definitely to my advantage.”
Hanfmann was one of three Germans to play qualifying in Madrid who impressed in the main draw. He was beaten by lucky loser and eventual quarter-finalist Daniel Altmaier in the second round while another lucky loser, Jan-Lennard Struff, went on to reach the final (after beating qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals).
With Hanfmann’s subsequent dream run to the last eight in Rome, a qualifier or lucky loser has reached the quarter-finals or better in four straight ATP Masters 1000 events.
“The satisfaction is definitely there [after qualifying for the main draw], but it’s short-lived,” explained Hanfmann. “Because then once you’re there, you want to keep going. I think what helped me in the past is to get in to a match rhythm and go far into the tournament because I’ve shown that when I get my matches, that I’m actually dangerous.
“I won my first round in Houston and I went far (to the semi-finals), and in Santiago I went far (quarter-finals). It’s nice to have that, to get into a rhythm and then just be dangerous.”
Qualifiers/Lucky Losers To Reach Quarter-Finals At Past Four ATP Masters 1000 Events
(Q) Christopher Eubanks
(Q) Jan-Lennard Struff
(LL) Jan-Lennard Struff, (Q) Aslan Karatsev, (LL) Daniel Altmaier
(Q) Yannick Hanfmann
That approach has worked again for Hanfmann in Rome. He produced a rock-solid display of baseline hitting on Tuesday to outlast Rublev and clinch his second Top 10 victory of the event after his second-round win against Taylor Fritz. Hanfmann’s fierce forehand in particular was decisive to him prevailing in a tense final set, during which he saved six of seven break points he faced.
In 2022, Hanfmann’s opportunities to challenge the best on Tour were more scarce. He played in six ATP Tour main draws all season, two via qualifying. Now with a 12-6 record for 2023 and a quarter-final against Daniil Medvedev or Alexander Zverev to look forward to in Rome, does he feel like something has changed?
“It’s a great feeling to step on the court against a player like [Rublev] and it doesn’t scare me anymore,” said the German after his thrilling triumph on Tuesday. “It used to, maybe. I would be like, ‘Wow, OK, I don’t know how I can play with him’, but now I know I’ve beaten those guys. I’m old enough to see what I can do on the court, especially on clay, and I feel dangerous against anyone.”