Otte Making Believers By The Round At US Open

Oscar Otte (photo: Kathryn Riley/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Oscar Otte is making a believer out of everyone. From Andy Murray, who witnessed first hand the German’s talent over five sets in the second round on Centre Court at Wimbledon earlier this year and encouraged him to keep working diligently, to No. 20 seed Lorenzo Sonego, Denis Kudla and Andreas Seppi, whom Otte has bested during the first three rounds of the 2021 US Open while dropping just two sets along the way.

The 28-year-old Otte, ranked 144th, is one of three men’s qualifiers that reached the Round of 16 in New York, along with fellow German Peter Gojowczyk and Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. It’s the first time that three qualifiers have made the Round 16 of a major singles draw since 1995 at the French Open.

A native of Cologne, the 6-foot-4-inch (193 cm), 174-pound (79 kg) Otte has won six straight matches during his two-week residency in New York – three in the qualifying draw and three rounds of the main draw in back of a big serve and forehand combo. The right-hander’s first serve has been clocked as fast as 151 miles-per-hour, best in the tournament so far. Otte’s odyssey has included saving match points in both of his first two qualifying matches, getting sick from the intense first-week heat, then winning in straight sets to reach his first US Open main draw.

Before the US Open fortnight began, the furthest Otte had been in a Grand Slam was the second round, which he’s done twice. With his latest win, a satisfying 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 triumph over the 89th-ranked Italian veteran Seppi, in which he hit 15 aces to go with 33 winners and secured match point with a huge forehand down-the-line winner, Otte has advanced to Monday’s fourth round against No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy on Louis Armstrong Stadium (not before 3 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. Central European). Round by round, his confidence continues to build – and the court assignments continue to improve, too.

After beating Seppi in two hours and 30 minutes on Court 17, Otte was asked to describe his thoughts about the match and on his level of play during the first week of the main draw.

I mean, was big match today again,” he said. “I know Seppi from playing club matches back in Germany. I knew how he plays. I think it was similar to the Kudla match. I knew what was going to happen and I just tried to focus a lot on my serve.

“Was pretty difficult for me the beginning and third set because conditions were compared to the other matches a little bit different. The court was much slower, so I had to adapt a little bit, but I think it worked out really well. I’m just really happy to be first time in my life in the second week of a slam.”

How much did the win over Seppi mean to Otte? From a monetary standpoint, Otte is guaranteed to make at least $265,000 for reaching the Round of 16. Pretty decent money when one considers that Otte’s career earnings entering the US Open totaled $787,000. If he can beat Berrettini to reach the quarterfinal round, his paycheck would increase to $425,000. From a personal standpoint, Otte giddily celebrated his win over Seppi with a forward tumble and roll on the hard court surface followed by gesturing “hand goggles,” made famous by German football star Anthony Modeste, who plays for Otte’s hometown team 1. FC Köln in Cologne.

When Otte was asked in press if it’s hit him what he’s accomplished in New York in such a short period of time, he replied: “Quallies are always tough, especially the first two rounds. I wasn’t in very good physical shape. I puked on the court in both deciding tiebreaks.

“I know if I play well and my game works really good, I can make a lot of damage to no matter who is my opponent.

“Yeah, it’s tough. It was a long way, but I think it’s still not the end.”

Otte, who turned pro in 2011, has split his time between competing on the ATP Challenger Tour and occasionally playing on the ATP Tour. He is 27-15 in all competitions this season – mostly on clay. After qualifying for the French Open, Otte took fellow German Alexander Zverev to five sets before losing 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. He said after that match: “The first two-and-a-half sets were probably the best sets of my whole life. I was playing unreal.” Then, after reaching his first main draw at Wimbledon through qualifying, Otte hit 24 aces and defeated Arthur Rinderknech of France in a lengthy five-setter, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 13-12 (2), before facing Murray, whom he also took to five sets before succumbing 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Last year, en route to a 22-13 win-loss record playing on both tours, he reached the Round of 16 in both ATP 250 indoor hard court tournaments in Cologne and won an ATP Challenger Tour clay event at Aix en Provence, France. He also won a Challenger Tour title at Lisbon in 2017 and achieved a career-best ranking of 129 in the same year.

“I still remember back couple of years ago when the matches were smaller, playing futures or challengers or quallies, was completely different, going nuts on court,” Otte recalled. “Now, a little bit later, a little bit more mature, this helps a lot. You grow as a person not just as a tennis player. It’s not always about playing tennis.”

When not on the ATP pro tour, Otte has gained confidence through competing in Germany’s club circuit, playing both singles and doubles in the Bundesliga, a national club-level circuit which draws the interest of many German pros. This year, he helped elevate his team from second to first level.

“I always enjoyed so much to play club matches because a lot of good friends are also on the team,” said Otte during his post-match press conference after beating Seppi Saturday. “It helped me a lot, because it was a lot of matches with singles and doubles. It’s the only time in t he year where you can compete as a team, not alone like the rest of the year. It was on clay, but for me the surface actually doesn’t make such a difference because I play the same style no matter which surface.”

Going forward, Otte understands he’ll be the underdog against the popular and outgoing Berrettini. However, New York fans love supporting underdog players and they’ll no doubt be there to help lift Otte.

“It’s a crazy ride. Just unbelievable. I didn’t expect that I could come so far,” Otte admitted. “Yeah, as I already said before, I know now that I have more trust in my game, and it’s working really well. Let’s see when this ends.”