HUh, what’s suddenly going on in German men’s tennis? For years, Alexander Zverev had to be the sole entertainer, twice won the year-end tournament of the eight best, became Olympic champion and was the only one who could be expected to be successful at all other major tournaments. Wealth and woe in the Davis Cup also depended primarily on the hamburger. Zverev good, all good, that was the unspoken solution.
But suddenly a new German wave is rushing in, carrying a few old acquaintances with it. Jan-Lennard Struff, 33 years old and from Warstein, Yannick Hanfmann, 31, from Karlsruhe, and Daniel Altmaier, 24, from Kempen beat one after the other top ten players and let the tennis world sit up and take notice and be amazed.
“I’m incredibly surprised”
In the world rankings, everyone is up to places between 23 and 58, except for the actual surfer Zverev, who has a lot of points to lose at the French Open after reaching the semifinals last year. “I’m incredibly surprised and happy about what German men’s tennis has to offer right now,” said Zverev after he confidently won his second round match against Slovakian Alex Molcan at the French Open late Thursday evening 6: 4, 6: 2, 6: 1 had won.
Surprise and luck could even increase to the unbelievable at the French Open. Namely when both Zverev (against the American Francis Tiafoe) and Altmaier (against the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrow) won their third round matches this Saturday and thus met in the round of 16. Altmaier has already reached the round of the last sixteen in Roland Garros, that was in 2020 on his Grand Slam debut.
Zverev, on the other hand, has a kind of regular place there. Eleven times in a row he was in the round of 16 of one of the four most important tournaments before failing in the second round at the Australian Open in January after months of injury. “It would be an amazing experience for him, it would be great for me too,” said Zverev, who described himself as a “huge Daniel Altmaier fan”. The top German figure in Paris is not alone in showing appreciation.
Altmaier’s match against ninth in the world rankings and co-favorite Jannik Sinner was not only the longest in the tournament so far at 5:26 hours, but also one of the most gripping: full of small-scale twists that had an impact on the big picture. Altmaier had to fend off two match balls in the fourth set and then found a fine formulation for the tension in his encounter with the South Tyrolean: “Every point in tennis has its own story.”
“Show on the big stage”
The last point to 6: 7 (0: 7), 7: 6 (9: 7), 1: 6, 7: 6 (7: 4), 7: 5 was more of an exclamation mark – he served an ace. In the end all the tension of the 24-year-old dissolved in tears. When Altmaier had overcome his emotion to some extent during the winner’s interview on the Suzanne Lenglen court and was able to speak again, he confessed how much the victory meant to him: “I just want to show myself on this big stage.”
The last time Altmaier cried for sporting reasons was after the Davis Cup qualifier against Switzerland in early February. In Trier he had lost the decisive individual against Stan Wawrinka, but gained an important insight from it. “I told the guys that we have to bring the Davis Cup feeling to the tour as well. Every day that we go out on the pitch, we can form as a team.” Altmaier is someone who doesn’t feel like a lone wolf and doesn’t perform, but rather grows in and with his environment.
The son of a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother does not shy away from taking unusual paths. Having grown up on the Lower Rhine, Altmaier moved the focus of his sporting life to Argentina in 2018. He has been training there since this season with former tennis pro Alberto Mancini, who once coached his country’s Davis Cup team.
Altmaier is impressed by the work ethic in the country of the football world champions, he is focused, ambitious and wants to win a Grand Slam title. Despite all the drudgery, he impresses with his one-handed backhand à la Roger Federer and Wawrinka. As a professional, it is his responsibility to “leave a reasonable game on the pitch,” he said after his win against Sinner.
In recent years, Altmaier has mainly played and won tournaments in the lower-class Challenger and Future series. He earned relatively good money there, but world ranking points are distributed rather sparsely. Unlike a high-level Masters tournament like in Madrid, where Altmaier moved up to the main draw last month and then made it to the quarter-finals; or as at the height of the clay court season in Paris.
He has already earned 142,000 euros here, and after the tournament he will move up at least 20 places from 79th place in the world rankings. But looking ahead or looking back is not for Daniel Altmaier. “My focus is on the here and now.” Alexander Zverev could cross paths soon enough.
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