Tommy Robredo Is Out of the Tennis Wilderness and Back in the U.S. Open

The wrap-around sunglasses that Tommy Robredo wears during matches can’t hide his soul.

Robredo was playing his final qualifying match at the United States Open on Friday afternoon against a fellow 36-year-old, Nicolas Mahut, when midway through the third set, Mahut hit a serve out wide that appeared to clip the line. The linesman called the ball wide and the chair umpire would not overrule. There is no Hawkeye challenge system available in qualifying.

Robredo simply walked to the ad side of the court, ceding the point to his opponent. No discussion, just action that said much about the player and about an era that is long gone in tennis.

“If it’s that clear, I cannot take the point,” Robredo said of Mahut’s ace.

Robredo, ranked 214th, went on to win the match, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, and earn a spot in the main draw for the first time in three years. His first-round match Monday against 15th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas was to be Robredo’s 50th at the Open. Robredo turned professional the year the 20-year-old Tsitsipas was born.

Robredo used to be a regular at Grand Slam events. At this time 12 years ago, he was ranked No. 5 in the world, and he was a mainstay in the top 50 as recently as 2016. He reached the quarterfinals at the French Open five times, including in 2013 when three times, he rallied from two-sets-to-none down to win his match, breaking an 86-year-old tournament record. He also was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open in 2007 and the United States Open in 2013. He and Rafael Nadal led Spain to three Davis Cups.

“If anyone would say to a kid that you can have that kind of career, I think they would be very happy,” Robredo said. “It is quite an achievement.”

That United States Open run in 2013 stands out in Robredo’s mind, most of all for a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 fourth-round victory over Roger Federer at Louis Armstrong Stadium. Robredo’s record against Federer had been 0-10, and he had won only three of 27 sets. It was the first time in a decade that Federer had lost before the quarterfinals at the Open.

“For sure, that was a special moment because I beat the best player in the history of the game,” Robredo said Friday. “But it was so late when we finished that I couldn’t even celebrate. I remember that I just showered and then got a hamburger with a friend.”

But right elbow surgery in 2016 kept him off tour for months and sent him tumbling down the rankings. These days, Robredo is laboring mostly on the Challenger circuit, a rung below the ATP Tour.

His textbook one-handed backhand is still much in evidence (he even tweets about teaching others how to hit it), but the victories are fewer and further between. When he won the Lisbon Challenger in May, it was his first title since winning an ATP event in Croatia in 2013. He had not played a main-draw match at a Grand Slam event since the 2017 French Open.

But while Robredo does not love the second-class status of Challengers — including no courtesy cars and a much smaller fan base — he still considers playing tennis a labor of love. Otherwise, there is no reason for him to keep doing it.

“My motivation is that I still love to play tennis,” said Robredo, who had a flight booked back to Barcelona, Spain, on Friday night but had to change it after he beat Mahut. “It’s as simple as that. I may not be as good as I was. When you are young, you can jump, you are faster and you move better. But I have goals, and the big one is to get back into the top 100.”

Robredo’s attitude and perseverance impressed Nadal, his longtime friend.

“He likes the sport,” Nadal said. “He has the right attitude with the right passion. It’s all about happiness.”

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