On Monday, Dominik Koepfer picked up his first career Australian Open win over lucky loser Hugo Dellien, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. He'll be put to a bigger test next when he faces Dominic Thiem on Wednesday.
Before he takes the court against the No. 3 seed, let's get to know Koepfer a little bit more.
Born in Furtwangen, a small city in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany, Koepfer was a multi-sport athlete as a child. He skied and played soccer, golf and tennis, and he didn't focus on tennis until he was 16. Remarkably, the left-hander played just one ITF junior event, losing in the first round in Hamburg in 2011 (though he competed in national events and prize money tournaments).
"Looking back, if I look at all the German juniors, they were dominating every single year, the German Championships, and they all stopped playing them," he said on the TENNIS.com Podcast. "I think a lot of people just lose the passion for the game when they're getting forced by the parents, or whoever it is, to like practice too much, play too much to play, play ITF, junior tournaments every single week, and travel."
Thriving at Tulane
Through a mutual connection, Koepfer got offered a spot to play for Tulane University in New Orleans. He'd visited the United States before, but never Louisiana, and adapting to the culture and the language took some time. While he says he started off as a "terrible" college player, Koepfer would reach No. 1 in the ITA rankings.
Koepfer, second from the left, with his teammates at Tulane in 2015.
Thanks to a supporter from Tulane, Koepfer was able to set up a training base in Tampa, Fla. with Billy Heiser after graduating in 2016 . He added traveling coach Rhyne Williams in 2018. Pro success came gradually: while he picked up his first ATP ranking point when he was 21 before his senior year, he snagged his first ATP win in 2018, over Tennys Sandgren (who happens to be his doubles partner at the Australian Open).
The 26-year-old got his big break in 2019 when he won the Ilkey ATP Challenger in a third-set tie-break over Dennis Novak. The win earned him a wild card into Wimbledon, where he won his first Grand Slam match. A few weeks later, he stormed through the US Open draw as a qualifier, falling to Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round.
Koepfer won his biggest career title on grass in Ilkey in 2019.
Backing It Up
Though the 2020 season was abbreviated, Koepfer made the most of it by winning his first ATP Masters 1000 match in Rome. He'd make it all the way to the quarterfinals, taking a set off eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
"Going into the match, I was a little nervous," Koepfer said. "I thought I was going to go down like 0 and 1. But I managed to feel my way into it, and managed to put it in a tough [performance]. And obviously, he's Novak Djokovic, he knows when to step up."
Expect to see Koepfer use some of that big-match experience during his clash with Thiem on Tuesday in Melbourne.
"It's obviously a tough task to play a Grand Slam champion," the world No. 70 told press. "He won the US Open last year. It's not easy to play one of the top guys, but I'm excited to play him and it's another challenge ahead of me.
"I'm looking forward to trying to make his life hard."