How much do like talking about your tennis colleagues?
A lot! As it is part of the world of tennis. And I am an expert in this field.
Well, then let’s start with the current number one in the world – Novak Djokovic . . .
I played against him for the first time in Shanghai in 2014. He was on a peak. A few days before he had destroyed Tomas Berdych in the Beijing final. I just hoped he wouldn’t crush me. I had immediately noticed the aura of his superb level of play, however, I managed to wriggle out quite well.
Does that mean this premiere didn’t go that bad?
Not at all, I was able to keep up solidly, though I lost 3:6, 4:6. That was far away from a disaster …
In the meantime you have beaten him a couple of times?
In 2018, in the semi-final in Rome, I played against him quite badly, lost 0:6, 1:6. But three weeks later I defeated him in the Paris quarterfinals in three sets. My premiere! Amazing! My first victory was quite emotional. Two additional highlights: I won the 2019 Roland Garros semifinal. In the same year won the group match at the Masters.
Now let’s talk about Rafael Nadal.
So far I have had the most meetings with him, up till now I have had the most epic match against him. The competition with Rafa on clay is unique as there has never been a better player on this surface than him.
What is your most memorable moment against Nadal?
The matches at the Australian Open in 2020 and at the US Open in 2018 were by far the most awesome meetings. In Melbourne I won in four sets in the quarterfinals, in which I won three tie-breaks. In New York I had to take defeat in five sets by a 6:7 in the decisive set, a match that took almost five hours. It was an unforgettable thriller on a big stage in Ashe-Stadium with a crowd of 23.000 fans. You could feel the incredible atmosphere all over the place.
You get along quite well off the court?
He is a nice and likeable guy. We often talk about soccer, off the court he is easy going and has a good sense of humor.
What are your experiences with Roger Federer?
When I was a 16-year-old junior I was allowed to practice with him for the first time at the Aorangi Park at Wimbledon. At the beginning I was super nervous, I hardly hit a ball over the net. After some minutes I settled in. Never ever had I thought I would ever beat Roger one day.
What about your first victory against him?
It was in Rome in 2016. Although it clearly needs to be stated that he was far from being physically fit in that round of 16. He had obvious back issues. However, it was a special day for me! The most outstanding win was in the final of Indian Wells. His stardom around the world is tremendous, even more so in the US. The people like him everywhere!
In your list of your most favourite athletes you have listed him as number one.
Because he is an exceptional person. He represents the idea of superstar!
What about Roger as a private person?
Very, very entertaining and completely relaxed. In the lockers, meaning in the inner, inner circle he is a completely different person. Hilarious, open minded and he also loves pranks.
Is Andy Murray also one of the big champions?
In the years before joining the tour myself I used to love watching him on TV. His game is simply attractive, his demeanour on court offers entertainment.
What was your best moment against Murray?
This was definitely my first win against him in Barcelona in 2017, it was an important moment in my career: for the first time I was able to beat the current number one player.
You accomplished your first victory against a top-10 player against Stan Wawrinka?
I will never forget that moment! It was in Madrid in 2014, third round, it was a night session, and I defeated him in three sets. We get along very well, however, I envy him his one-handed backhand. With this stroke he will always remain a role model to me.
You weren’t able to enjoy that moment against Wawrinka for a very long time . . .
Unfortunately not! I was unable to play Feliciano Lopez in the round of 16. It was a sort of food poisoning, even an IV didn’t help. I would have loved to take on this challenge, especially after my highlight against Wawrinka.
You challenged your first top-ten player in Vienna.
It was at the Vienna Stadthalle in 2013. In the round of 16 I lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by 6:7 in the third set. It was a loud sell-out crowd. This has been one of my most fascinating moments. And Tsonga has a kind of “cult-personalities“. Over the last decade I have been considering him as one of the most flamboyant personality on the tour.
You also had several meetings with his fellow countryman Gael Monfils?
To watch him play, he is the most attractive player, by far the best athlete. Tennis needs such characters. We also watched several soccer matches on TV together.
His has been one of the most interesting names over the last years, he joined the pro tour at a very young age. It is incredible how many players the French tennis federation has managed to get into the top 100. The number of talents seems to be without limits.
"Roger? He is a unique player, Federer embodies the term superstar.
A new rivalry could develop with Daniil Medvedev?
As teenagers we often played against each other, even though he is three years younger than me. At that time it was absolutely not foreseeable that ten years later we would be ranked as number three and five respectively.
Where does it take him?
He will establish himself among the top players. He has the means to win a Grand Slam title. Playing against him is not a fun thing to do. He serves well and he moves extremely well, too. A really tough opponent.
One of your pals on the tour is Sascha Zverev?
I’ve known him since 2014, we made it to the tour almost simultaneously. From the beginning we have been getting along well, have done a couple of things together, that are not tennis related, like going out for meals, or playing games like Town-River-Country.
What about the on-court competition?
He had some really tough matches, also on big stages like the quarterfinals at the French Open twice, or the semifinal at the Masters in 2019. Not to forget the the semifinal in Melbourne in 2020. We also share a lot: nice memories of various doubles matches and then, of course, we have the same outfitter.
His strengths, his weaknesses?
His bi-handed backhand is one of the most elegant strokes in the world, his serve is simply superb. For being so tall he moves extremely well. Weaknesses? I don’t see any of that in a player at that ranking.
Your analysis of Stefanos Tsitsipas?
He has had a tremendous improvement! He came, he saw, he conquered. Stefanos has established himself quickly, plays attractive and uncompromisingly aggressive tennis. People like his way of playing, a young go-getter. We will surely play some thrilling matches against each other.
A future Grand Slam champion?
Absolutely! Stefanos has all the talent and means, he is going to rise rapidly.
One of the newcomers is Matteo Berrettini.
His dream season in 2019 peaked at the Masters. Matteo had a couple of extremely tough matches, he can enthuse the crowd. In Italy in particular! The Italians are highly interested in sports, tennis is highly appreciated. That’s why it is so important that leaders like Berrettini excite the fans.
With Fabio Fognini you share the same conditioning coach, Duglas Cordero.
I think Fabio is one of the most talented players, he has a great potential of entertainment. He excites by his theatrics on court. With him you never know what is yet to come. He has an extremely quick hand, we had some practice sessions together and we really get along well.
How does the cooperation work?
Absolutely fair! With Duglas we share the same conditioning coach. There are hardly any time issues, so far everything has been good. We are definitely in great physical shape!
Now from Italy to Belgium – David Goffin?
He is very calm guy, friendly, good natured. And he is a really tough opponent because he doesn’t give me a lot of time. He remains so close to the baseline, hits the balls extremely early and places them well. I will never forget one match: in 2016 I defeated him at the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and managed to break through into the top 10 for the first time. That’s something you’ll never forget!
There was a training camp together with Goffin?
We practiced a couple of weeks together in Tenerife. If you have people like him for sparring, it will increase the level tremendously. Those are really useful practice sessions!
You don’t like playing against Roberto Bautista Agut either?
In 2015 he defeated my three consecutive times. Three years later I eventually won my first match against Roberto in the semifinals of St. Petersburg. For six years he has been ranked no worse than around number 20 – it took him until he was 24 years old to break the top 100. His game is straight and fast. I don´t like his way of playing.
Your analysis of Kei Nishikori?
A real super hero in Japan! He can´t go outside without being recognised, he even needs bodyguards for protection. He is one of the best paid athletes, big sponsors push him.
What are your athletic experiences with Kei?
We have had a few close matches, we played many attractive points, most of the time it was really tough. That’s what tennis should be like. Nishikori is one of the fans´ favourites. His contribution in expanding the tennis market around the globe has been tremendous.
Why is this so?
Tennis needs top level players from each continent in order to attract all the fans and to expand the sport even further. This is what is crucial for a world sport!
Who are your favourite players from South America?
I have two Argentines on my list!
Without a question: my pal Diego Schwartzmann. From the beginning we got along very well, he is a really nice guy. Entertaining, spontaneous and a true friend. At tournaments we spend a lot of time together in the players´ lounge playing board games and we reached the doubles final in Madrid.
What do you think of his game?
I like it anyway. His touch is sensational, he moves extremely well and he is a true fighter. I like watching such athletes!
Your second Argentinian hero?
That is Juan Martin del Porto! He is one of the few Grand Slam champions of our time. His forehand is more like a whip, I don’t have good memories of Delpo, actually only negative ones!
New York in particular . . .
Unfortunately yes! For example the round of 16 at the US Open in 2017. I had been ahead 2:0 in sets and then del Potro made his comeback and won the match. I don’t wanna think of that any more, it still makes me angry today.
What do you think of Grigor Dimitrow?
I really like him. Just for fun, I always tell him he is the best looking tennis player in the world. Grigor likes a glamorous life, he likes his style and he even lives fashion. His way of playing tennis is aesthetic and extremely elegant. On court he somehow reminds you of Roger Federer.
You had some close matches against Dimitrow, your head-to-head against Pablo Carreno-Busta is impeccable?
This is a special situation, I have played him on all levels: Futures, challengers, 250-events, 500-events, 1000-events and at Grand Slams. As a pro I have won seven straight times.
Your most favourite opponent?
To be honest? I really like playing against him. Our paths have crossed so many times. When we see each other we both have to smile …
What is your relation with Nick Kyrgios?
He is distinctive, you cannot replace him, he is totally unique! Tennis should be happy to have such a person. This sport hasn’t seen anyone like him before and probably never will. People either hate him or they love him. Deep in his soul he is a very nice person. Some years ago we discovered the Acapulco night life together, that was awesome!
Still to mention are two of your friends on the tour? . .
Of course, Jan-Lennard Struff. We have known each other since our Future-tournaments.
There are some things you have in common . . .
We both like Borussia Dortmund, Struffi even more, he is one of the true supporters. We also like the TV series “Alarm für Cobra 11“.
How does such a friendship show on the tour?
You practice together, you go meet in the evening, watch soccer or go out for meals. I keep my fingers crossed for him in his matches. I was really happy about his rising. And he has a good sense of humour …
Your most important pal in the world of tennis is Dennis Novak?
There is no doubt about that. I´ve spent most of my time on a tennis court together with him. In 2020 Dennis eventually broke the top 100. I had been waiting for that moment for a long time, I cheered for him like at one of my biggest wins.
You have known each other since your childhood?
We grew up together in the Suedstadt training center and we both had a dream: to become a tennis professional! Now that we both have reached this goal makes it even more enjoyable! Dennis is underestimated right now, he should break the top 50!
Do you meet often?
Whenever possible! We don’t need big plans, we know all of each other. There are evenings when we just watch TV or series and don’t even talk that much. It is blind trust. This is true friendship!
Do you never disagree?
No, never! There is a lot of mutual respect, a very fair friendship! We share so many crazy stories and I’m absolutely sure we will have many more.