Tommy Paul fades late, losing in the ATP 500 Acapulco final

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Tommy Paul celebrates his win over Ben Shelton
Tommy Paul of the U.S. celebrates after defeating compatriot Ben Shelton in their quarterfinal match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

For a brief moment, Tommy Paul seemed like he was on his way to winning just his second career title on the ATP Tour; however, he lost steam down the stretch, losing to Australian Alex De Minaur 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the finals at the Mexican Open in Acapulco. 

Both Paul and De Minaur were coming off of grueling three-set upsets over Top 10 players in the semifinals the night before. Paul beat his friend and fellow American, 5th-ranked Taylor Fritz, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (2), while De Minaur defeated 10th-ranked Holger Rune 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. De Minaur’s match with Rune lasted two hours and 48 minutes, while Paul’s showdown with Fritz took three hours and 25 minutes. 

Despite not even having 24 hours to recover, Tommy Paul came out like a house on fire, winning the first set in 38 minutes. It seemed like he was going to build on his semi-final appearance at the Australian Open, but fatigue began to kick in during the second set. 

The two players traded breaks early in the second set until the Aussie landed the first big blow when he escaped a 0/30 hole to hold serve and go up 3-2 in the second. It seemed to give him a boost of confidence and was a gut punch for Paul, who was so close to taking control of the second set. 

“I just dug deep, scrapped my way through it, and then the first game of the third set was exactly like my semifinal against Holger [Rune],” De Minaur explained after his victory. “I had that in the back of my mind and I just told myself to keep pushing and if I could keep pushing myself and get out of that game then the momentum is gonna switch so I’m very happy I was able to get out of that.”

After that game, Paul seemed to fade considerably and De Minaur capitalized, forcing the American to cover every inch of the court with precision groundstrokes and a collection of drop shots.

After winning the second set, De Minaur saved five break points with big serves and strong baseline play in a grueling five-deuce game to open the final set. Paul could never recover, going down 5-0 in the final frame before you could even blink. Even though he was able to scratch out a game, he never threatened De Minaur, who won his first ATP 500 title. 

“I’ve got a whole lot of heart in this little body of mine and I enjoy competing,” said De Minaur after the match. “It’s not always that you win a tournament and you get to finish a week unbeaten so I’ll definitely cherish this heading into Indian Wells and Miami.”

The ATP Tour will shift to Indian Wells in California on Wednesday for the first ATP 1000 event of the year. The ATP 1000 events are the biggest non-Grand Slam events on the tour, so both Alex De Minaur and Tommy Paul will be looking to build on their success in Acapulco when they enter the bigger stage.

Alex De Minaur moves to 18th in the world with the win, usurping fellow Australian Nick Kyrgios, while Tommy Paul, just over a month since his run to the Australian Open semi-finals, is also set to return to the Top 20. He moved up four places to No. 19 this week, which is a small consolation after the 25-year-old was unable to win his second tour-level title in his second appearance in a final.

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Alex De Minaur celebrates his victory over Tommy Paul
Alex De Minaur celebrates his victory over Tommy Paul in the Mexican Open final in Acapulco (Tennis Majors)