A year ago, Paul Goldstein had thoughts of quitting his tennis career. He began last season on the brink of re-entering the top 100 in the rankings, and felt as if his game was at a turning point. But the Rockville native failed to convert a combined six match points against two players ranked in the top 20, and didn't win back-to-back matches for the remainder of the season.
Goldstein now can't help but take a few moments to bask in what has been a surprising renaissance. He is one spot shy of his highest ranking since finishing the 2000 season at No. 69. The 29-year-old cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Alejandro Falla yesterday to advance to the second round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
"I began to question myself," said Goldstein, whose ranking plummeted to 199 by the start of the 2005 season. "I started out playing well, but then lost some close matches. I was so devastated to come so close. It affected me. I started to think about alternatives to tennis."
Two weeks ago, Goldstein reached the quarterfinals of the hard-court event in Indianapolis. That came just two weeks after he reached the semifinals in a grass-court event in Rhode Island, and the finals in two tournaments on the Challenger Circuit earlier this season.
Veterans such as Goldstein dominated the stage on the first day of the Legg Mason. Australian Wayne Arthurs, 34, overcame a one-set deficit for a 0-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over 19-year-old Phillip Simmonds of Reston, who was making his first ATP tournament appearance. James Blake, who two years ago was ranked No. 22, continued his comeback from a broken vertebrae and shingles to defeat Jean-Rene Lisnard, 6-4, 6-4.
"I definitely feel like the injuries are behind me," Blake said. "Last year was a nightmare. . . . I feel like I'm getting back to where I was. . . . I've lost a few close matches. It's just a matter of time till the rankings reflect my progress. I feel like it's only a matter of time where I put things together and make a run."
Goldstein can't quite put his finger on what has caused his turnaround. He offers that his marriage last year might have helped. Then again, he switched to a different racquet this spring. He's also gaining confidence from winning.
Goldstein raced to a 4-1 lead over Falla in the first set, frustrating him with consistent winners on his backhand and foot speed to run down every ball. He won five of the first six games in the second set en route to the victory.
"It's easy to feed off a little success," he said. "Right now, moreso than ever, when I'm out on court in a competitive situation, I feel like I'm playing to my potential."