After a breakthrough 2023 season, in which he reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and a career-high ranking of No. 12, Tommy Paul had big goals for himself in the new year — starting with winning more ATP titles.
On Sunday, the 26-year-old did just that by claiming the Dallas Open trophy with an impressive 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 victory over fellow countryman Marcos Giron, in the first All-American ATP final since 2022. It was the second ATP title of Paul’s career, and first since 2021.
“That was a pretty unbelievable match,” Paul said later. “Best final I’ve ever played.”
It marked the end of a dominant week for Paul. He didn’t drop a set heading into the final and defeated Ben Shelton 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals on Saturday. Paul is now back up to No. 14 in the rankings and is the second-highest ranked American man behind Taylor Fritz.
And, in addition to his new trophy and the rankings boost, Paul also was awarded a custom belt buckle by the tournament. When in Texas, right?
Paul’s girlfriend Paige Lorenze later posted a since-expired video to her Instagram story of Paul, who is from New Jersey, wearing the belt buckle — and a cowboy hat, jeans and boots — at the airport with the text: “Wins one tournament in Texas.”
Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:
Back to winning for Rybakina
While she didn’t get a belt buckle for her efforts, Elena Rybakina continued her blistering hot season by winning her second trophy of the year at the Abu Dhabi Open on Sunday.
After defeating Danielle Collins, Cristina Bucsa and Liudmila Samsonova throughout the week, Rybakina wasted no time in the final — taking the opening set in just 25 minutes — and defeated Daria Kasatkina, 6-1, 6-4. It marked her seventh career WTA title and she is now 11-2 on the season — the second-most in the WTA, behind only Jelena Ostapenko and tied with Aryna Sabalenka.
Another trophy for the cabinet 🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆🏆
— wta (@WTA) February 11, 2024
After a dominant performance in Brisbane to open the year (including a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Sabalenka, the eventual Australian Open champion, in the final), Rybakina fell in the second round in Melbourne to Anna Blinkova following the longest tiebreak in a major 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (20). Despite the devastating early exit from the year’s first Slam, it seems Rybakina has already moved on and is back to winning.
“I was coming to this week without expectations because I had some issues in Melbourne, so we needed some time to get back on court,” Rybakina said later. “I was just trying to get as many matches as I can. Really proud about this week. With every match I felt more confident.”
Pliskova’s return to form
When Karolina Pliskova arrived in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, she was unseeded and hadn’t won a title in over four years. Nor had she reached a WTA final since 2021.
But the former No. 1 would not be deterred by recent history.
Pliskova, 31, was in top form throughout the week and she steamrolled her way into the final without dropping a set. On Sunday, she ended her title drought following a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Ana Bogdan and earned her 17th WTA title.
“I feel amazing because I didn’t win a title since  so of course it feels great, especially here with the support which I have all week,” Pliskova said after the match. “Today was difficult, but the atmosphere was amazing, so I hope to come back for sure. At the moment I’m just really happy, so I want to enjoy it.”
She later called it an “unforgettable week” on an Instagram post.
With the win, Plisokova jumped from No. 78 to No. 59 in the rankings. But she didn’t have much time to celebrate. She had to immediately head to Doha — over 2,000 miles away — for her first-round match on Monday. And, despite likely exhaustion, Pliskova rallied back after losing the first set to Anna Kalinskaya 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, to get yet another win.
Five for five
Ugo Humbert has played in five ATP finals over the course of his career. He’s won them all.
On Sunday, the 25-year-old Frenchman topped Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-3 in the Open 13 final, becoming just the eighth player in the Open Era to win his first five finals on the ATP Tour and joining some esteemed company including current players Carlos Alcaraz and Hubert Hurkacz.
“I’m very strong mentally in finals,” Humbert said later in what might just be the understatement of the week.
He is now up to a new career-high ranking of No. 18.
The coaching carousel
Coaching changes are pretty common in tennis, but the partnership between Jessica Pegula and David Witt looked as if it might stand the test of time. Pegula won all four of her career singles titles and reached six major quarterfinals since the pair started working together in 2019.
But the two split following Pegula’s disappointing second-round exit at the Australian Open last month. Pegula reportedly made the decision soon after arriving back home and called Witt.
“It was a total surprise to me,” Witt said in an interview with Tennis.com. “Never saw it coming.”
Witt, who previously coached Venus Williams, called it “very tough,” but was already looking for his next player to work with. Pegula has yet to announce her next coach, and is currently sidelined from competition with a neck injury.
While Pegula and Witt were in their fifth season together, other partnerships are shorter. And in the case of Holger Rune and Boris Becker, that would be just over three months. Becker announced he was stepping down from the role, effective immediately.
“We started this partnership with the initial goal to reach the ATP Finals [at the] end of last year but moving forward I realized that in order for this to be successful, I would need to be available for Holger much more than I can,” Becker wrote in a social media post on Tuesday. “Due to professional and private responsibilities, I can’t give Holger what he needs now.”
Severin Luthi, who had been part of the coaching team with Becker, had announced his departure just days before after two months on the job.
In a statement released by his new management company, Rune, 20, admitted “it’s not easy to find the perfect fit” and said it had been difficult working with new coaches after splitting with his childhood coach after 15 years together.
“I have big ambitions and big goals and I need people around me that have the same vision and people I can trust to reach my goals,” Rune said. “I need people that know me — who can be there all the time. This gives me comfort and happiness in a world with changing environments and conditions every week.”
Rune has also not announced his next coach but said he would be soon.
We’re not even six weeks into the new year, but we already have an early contender for the most iconic doubles pairing of 2024: Ons Jabeur and Naomi Osaka. Or, as the internet has already dubbed them, “Onsaka.”
🤜 ONSAKA 🤛
— wta (@WTA) February 6, 2024
The two teamed up in Abu Dhabi, and while they lost their first-round match to Magda Linette and Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-3, they still had some memorable moments and fans were left wanting more from the duo.
Neither have said if they plan to play together again anytime soon, but, as Jabeur is a client of Osaka’s Evolve management agency, it seems likely we will see Onsaka in action again. They certainly know how to reach each other.
Give Bert Critchley the Emmy
Ever think to yourself that Novak Djokovic’s tour dominance is just too much to be believed? Or that Dominic Thiem’s “huh-ehhhh” grunts are too exaggerated?
Well, you might be onto something.
Turns out the whole thing is just scripted. Yup, that’s right. Or at least according to a new ATP video that went immediately viral on social media on Wednesday. In the clip, actors like Bert Critchley, who plays Djokovic, and Fraser McKnight, who plays Andy Murray, give a behind-the-scenes look at the 52nd season of the show about the ATP Tour.
“I think that’s what people don’t realize, it’s all just scripted like the players and the matches, it’s all just kind of made up,” McKnight said. “It’s a bit like wrestling or reality TV shows, none of it’s real. We get our storylines at the start of the year and we try to make everything look natural. Let’s face it, people are stupid so they’ll buy anything.”
Okay, obviously this is a parody but it’s truly perfection. The acting! The delivery! 10/10. No notes. If you haven’t yet seen it, you must do so immediately.
The Tour: A Reality Show 📺
— ATP Tour (@atptour) February 7, 2024
And the fun didn’t stop there. The ATP created stories and social media pages for several of the “actors” and so many players — both those involved and those seeing it for the first time — took to Twitter after the clip’s release with some legitimately hilarious commentary.
Normally the writers start the season with my character Novak winning the Australian Open title. So, for anyone that doesn’t like the beginning of this season, please contact the director 😂😂 @atptour
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) February 7, 2024
How do I get a better part in WTA show? Because my character sucks! https://t.co/kaRHHx8kYz
— Magda Linette (@MagdaLinette) February 7, 2024