American J.J. Wolf continues long road back from injury with upset victory at 2022 US Open

J.J. Wolf is a darkhorse at the Dallas Open
J.J. Wolf during his first round match at the US Open (photo courtesy of the writer)

The 2022 US Open wasted no time in giving us new faces to cheer for. 

While world number one Daniil Medvedev was having little trouble against American Stefan Kozlov on the main court, 23-year-old American J.J. Wolf was pulling off a thrilling upset against 16th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in straight sets. 

The Cincinnati native did not automatically qualify for the US Open because he was ranked 104th as of the entry cut-off for the US Open. Ranked 83rd heading into today’s match, Wolf was also five spots out from direct acceptance into the US Open main draw, so he had to earn a spot in the US Open as a wild card by accumulating enough points during the summer hard court circuit

Yet, Wolf is no stranger to proving himself at the US Open. Back in 2020, the then-21-year-old upset 29th-ranked Guido Pella in four sets, then beat Roberto Carballés Baena in straight sets, before falling to Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. 

Even with that past success, this win felt better. “It was so much fun,” said Wolf after the match. “Obviously, in 2020 I did pretty well here, but it wasn’t the same without the energy from the crowd that New York is famous for. Being able to see a lot of familiar faces in the stands and getting that kind of support from people I’ve never met before, it meant a lot to me.”

Wolf seemed to feed off of that energy with an aggressive style of play that saw him hit 46 winners, 14 aces, and pump in 47% of his first serves which were coming in around 129 mph. It was a far different version of the young American than we saw back in Indian Wells where Wolf fell to Bautista Agut in a three-set thriller just a few months ago.

“That match was three and a half hours in a two out of three set match, so I knew this one had endless possibilities,” admitted Wolf. “I took away [from that first match] that it was gonna be a grind and there’s really nobody that blows him off the court, so I was ready for a tough match.”

But Wolf is no struggle to grinding through adversity. After turning pro in 2019, COVID hit halfway through the year. Wolf then missed eight months after having two separate double hernia surgeries. 

“It was originally only supposed to be a four-month recovery, and then I actually got into a car accident the day of my surgery. When I was supposed to start playing again, I was like, ‘Is it supposed to be hurting this badly?’ and I went and got it checked out and they said the first surgery wasn’t done right, so I had to have somebody go back into the same area and completely re-do it.”

“So instead of three scars I now have five. I don’t think that helps a smooth recovery as much as it could have.”

Even though Wolf is able to joke about the recovery, the road back was not easy.  It was a difficult challenge “not being able to engage your abs or your core” and, as a result, this is actually Wolf’s first time where he feels like he’s “come close to a full year on tour.”

To an outsider, it seems like the young American has made good use of that full year and is finding his game of late. In the first week of August, he made it to the quarter-finals of the tune-up tournament in Washington, beating 22nd-ranked Denis Shapovlov and 28th-ranked Holger Rune before falling to 8th-ranked Andrey Rublev in straight sets. 

However, Wolf isn’t completely satisfied. “In my opinion, I’ve been working on a lot of things this year, and I don’t think it’s gone as smoothly as people think.” 

Wolf had lost three straight matches coming into today while Bautista Agut had won eight of ten. But none of that mattered. The American’s powerful game was just too much on the hot outdoor courts, and Wolf was able to capture his first win over a top-20 opponent since joining the tour.

But after such a long road to this point, Wolf is not ready to rest on that achievement. “In past years, I felt like if I had had full years under my belt, I’d be right here too… I’ll give myself an hour or two [to enjoy this]. After I call my family, I’ll start thinking about round two.” 

That round two match-up will be against 73rd-rank Chilean Alejandro Tabilo who beat Kamil Majchrzak of Poland 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1. 

For more coverage of the 2022 US Open, visit amNY Sports

J.J. Wolf US Open
J.J. Wolf during his first round match at the US Open (photo courtesy of the writer)

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