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Late bloomer Koepfer in awe of 'unreal' US Open run

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New York (AFP)

Dominik Koepfer arrived at the US Open with just two career tour-level wins, but the German has eclipsed that total in New York alone with his stunning run to the last 16.

Koepfer, 25, spent four years studying for a finance degree at Tulane University, in New Orleans, twice earning All-American honors as one of the nation's top collegiate tennis players.

This time a year ago Koepfer, currently 118th, was ranked outside the top 200 but his unexpected success at Flushing Meadows will easily propel him into the world's top 100, almost doubling his career prize money at the very least.

Koepfer, who turned professional in 2016, had pocketed $332,732 prior to the year's final Grand Slam but is guaranteed to collect a check for a minimum of $280,000 following Friday's 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-1 win over Georgian 17th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.

"It's obviously great to be here. Qualifying for the first time and playing it, winning three rounds now -- I didn't expect that, to be here two weeks. It's amazing, it feels unreal. I can't believe it. I'm kind of speechless," Koepfer said.

Koepfer is based in the Florida sunshine in Tampa and cites compatriot Tommy Haas, a former world number two, as a hero of his in his youth.

"I met him at Indian Wells this year, went there and didn't get in, which was a bummer," he said of the Masters event last March.

Life on tour for those in the lower echelons of the sport can be tough. While there is a concerted behind-the-scenes push for increased prize money that filters further down the rankings, Koepfer admits his bumper US Open payday is a huge source of relief.

- Pressure reliever -

"Obviously the money takes a lot of pressure off me. It's not easy playing challengers, losing first round - you get like $300," Koepfer said.

"It's not easy to pay your coach every week and travel expenses, hotels, food, rent back home in Tampa. It definitely takes a lot of pressure. It's unreal, it should cover the next year or two."

Koepfer and South Korea's Chung Hyeon, who faces Rafael Nadal in Saturday's third round, are the lone qualifiers remaining in the men's draw.

Despite the extra workload, Koepfer insists he still feels "pretty good" as he bids to become just the third qualifier to make the US Open quarter-finals -- after Nicolas Escude (1999) and Gilles Muller (2008).

"First round I was struggling against (Jaume) Munar, cramping in the third but I recovered well. Against (Reilly) Opelka at night I kept it pretty short. Today it was like two hours and 40 minutes. I felt good out there," he said.

"I'm pretty happy about my body, nothing hurts so let's hope I can come back on Sunday."

It took the eventual champion, Andre Agassi in 1999 and Roger Federer in 2008, to halt the runs of Escude and Muller in New York.

Should Koepfer find his way into the last eight, he could well come up against top seed and US Open title-holder Novak Djokovic.

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