On the ATP Challenger Tour, players strive for consistency above all else. That is, steadily moving up the FedEx ATP Rankings while building momentum and confidence from tournament to tournament, week after week. Seeing the fruits of their labour realized on a consistent basis, after months of hard work, can flip the switch for many players striving to take that next step.
Mitchell Krueger is hoping that this moment provides that spark. The 27-year-old American put together a comprehensive performance on the hard courts of Cary, North Carolina, to claim his second Challenger title and first of the year. An efficient 7-6(4), 6-2 victory over Ramkumar Ramanathan clinched the crown for the Dallas native on Sunday, returning to the winners’ circle for the first time since 2019.
Krueger has been building towards this moment all summer. A semi-final finish in Little Rock in early June was followed by a successful run through qualifying at the Hall of Fame Open in Newport last week – his first at the ATP 250 level. He would put it all together in Cary, not dropping a set in the semis and final to lift the trophy. The Texan rises 19 spots to No. 175 in the FedEx ATP Rankings with his victory at the Atlantic Tire Championships.
— ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) July 25, 2021
The American spoke to broadcaster Mike Cation following his latest title in Cary…
Congrats Mitch. This was a very efficient performance all week. You were completely dialed in from the start. Is that something you have been focusing on?
It’s always something you ideally want to happen. It’s a running joke with the guys that I play a lot of three-set matches. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, when I’m down I always try to fight back, there’s always a lot of three-setters. This time of year, when it’s super hot and humid, you want to spend as little time on court as possible.
It’s toeing that fine line of expending as little energy as possible, while not rushing through the match and make some bad errors and mistakes. I found that line really well this week. I also served really well and it was clicking all week. Today, I dug out a few close holds that could have potentially changed the match.
A second title is a big one.
I tell you, it’s hard to come by. Some of these guys out here seem like they’re winning titles every week. They make it look easy, but it’s definitely not. This time of year, with the US Open coming up, it’s important.
You’re going through a good stretch now. How do you maintain that from tournament to tournament, especially trying to peak around the US Open?
I think the biggest thing for me is getting that consistent match play. It’s been so hard for me this year to get consistent tournaments. It’s been tough to travel, especially earlier in the year, but even this summer it’s not ideal. After Lexington, I could very well be done until the US Open. Who knows what’s going to happen in the next few weeks. At the end of the day, I can only control what I can control.
Last week in Newport was a good first week, qualifying for an ATP 250 for the first time. I completed the full set, qualifying for a Slam, Masters 1000, ATP 500 and the 250 was the last one I needed. I carried that into Cary and I’m looking forward to Lexington and hopefully I’ll get into [the ATP 500 in] Washington, D.C. qualifying. We’ll see from there.
You have your family traveling with you now, to almost every tournament. Your wife Jeannie, your coach David O’Hare, your parents and Brad Stine is looking after you as well. Can you talk about how everyone is coming together for you and what that means both on and off the court?
You nailed it. That was one of the toughest things with all the COVID restrictions, having one guest week-to-week. The last three years or so, Jeannie has been traveling a lot with me. She loves to come and support and do her part. She makes a big difference for me and having that familiarity is important. And having Dave too, coming over here from the U.K., it’s been tough with all the restrictions but I’m lucky we communicate really well.
Dave, Dave Licker and Brad all know each other well and stay in touch. One guy is the U.K., one in California and one in Dallas, but we have a pretty active group chat when it comes to game plans and strategies. I have a lot of people supporting me and it makes a big difference, whether they’re actually there or not.
You have a long trip to Lexington now… in a minivan. Who’s driving?
Hey, the minivan is actually really comfortable. The setup in there is nice. My wife Jeannie will drive for sure. She loves to drive. She loves a road trip. I wasn’t too big on driving at first, but she and Dave talked me into it. It’s nice to have a car and have the freedom. Having the car in Lexington as well to move around as you need takes the pressure off as well.
Finally, a question about the fans. For you, how much of a difference does it make to have people in the stands at these tournaments?
I’m not lying when I say it makes a complete 180-degree difference, when it compares to playing with nobody there. I was talking to someone earlier in the week that playing in Little Rock there were hundreds of people having a good time and enjoying the tennis. Then the next week in Orlando you were playing in front of airplanes flying overhead. I didn’t have anyone with me that week. Especially at this level, it’s how you manage those ups and downs. Who knows what things will be like in the next few months, but hopefully they start trending towards this direction.