Filip Krajinovic isn’t a revolutionary at the forefront of a movement. He is a face in the middle of a crowd. He would love to break to the front of the pack, but his time hasn’t yet arrived.
It is late July. The tennis tours are on post-Wimbledon clay (and Atlanta hardcourts). Grand epiphanies or explosive new revelations don’t generally belong to this part of the tennis season… and you won’t get a grand epiphany here.
Filip Krajinovic is not a one-of-a-kind tennis player or a conspicuously original example of what tennis players go through. He is notable in that many other players are like him. This is the main idea I pulled from his three-set loss to Alexander Zverev in Hamburg on Friday.
To be sure, there are specific parts of Krajinovic’s tennis — his collection of shots, the force and consistency of his serve — which can be improved. If he can make these improvements, he will become a better player.
To be sure, Krajinovic isn’t a player who elicits intense bursts of amazement the way the Big 3 or Serena Williams or other electric tennis players do. It might be too simplistic and uncharitable to characterize him as a worker bee. He can hit a tennis ball very crisply and outflank a similarly credentialed opponent. Yet, his talent does not reside at the very top of men’s tennis.
If you wanted to make the claim that limited talent is what separates Krajinovic from the very best on tour, you would have plenty of reason to do so.
Yet, when seeing Krajinovic lose a 6-2, 5-2 lead to Alexander Zverev in the Hamburg quarterfinals — roughly two months after losing a fourth-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas at Roland Garros, denying him the chance to take out Stef in five sets — this larger point emerges:
If you had to pick one thing you would change in Krajinovic’s overall tennis profile, it wouldn’t be a specific shot or an element of technique. It would be the #INNERGAME.
This doesn’t mean the shots or the technique or a beefed-up arsenal don’t matter; it merely means that the mental side of the sport is number one.
The shots, the technique, everything a tennis player must call upon, are important. Yet, if one force is driving the bus for Filip Krajinovic, it has to be the response to pressure situations.
Krajinovic’s tennis was more than good enough for Zverev through the first 15 games of Friday’s match; Filip won 11 of those 15 games. This was a thrashing.
Then, however, a spectator fell ill. The rhythm of the match was interrupted. Krajinovic had to think about serving for the match. He was unintentionally but genuinely iced the way a free throw shooter in basketball is iced by an opposing coach’s timeout in the final five seconds of a one-point game.
Technique, shots, and overall heft all have their place in forming a better, more substantial tennis career. Yet, for a lot of players, handling pressure is the foremost challenge.
Krajinovic is in position to win — or on the verge of being in position to win — on an appreciable number of occasions… only to not win. He can still develop as a technician and a shotmaker, but those developments could still put him on the verge of scoring big victories.
The #INNERGAME is what will nail down those victories and catapult Krajinovic to the next level.
Handling pressure: It is at once so obvious and yet so elusive for so many tennis players. Obvious stories might not be sexy or captivating, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be told.