At one point in 2019, Daniel Altmaier did not have an ATP ranking. In 2020 he reached the Round of 16 at Roland Garros. The 22-year-old is now closing in on the top 100 of the rankings, with a burning desire to rise even further.
Altmaier’s career so far is a story of self-belief and overcoming setbacks, and the German is not satisfied with his result in Paris; he has even bigger plans for the future.
A Breakthrough in Paris
At the beginning of Roland Garros, Daniel Altmaier was not a recognisable name to the casual tennis fan.
It was in Paris, however, where the German caught the tennis world’s attention as he defeated world number eight Matteo Berrettini in a routine straight sets victory to advance to the Round of 16.
This was a stunning breakthrough in Altmaier’s career, yet it was an achievement that he always believed was possible given the hard work he has put in throughout his career.
When asked about his time in Paris he said: “My belief is that my team and I were doing the right things for a while now and in Paris things clicked. Perhaps it could have happened earlier, it could have happened in some of the next events, but we were always sure the hard work would pay off sooner rather than later.”
A series of injury setbacks struck in 2017 and 2018, including a tear in his shoulder and a serious abdominal issue caused by a pelvic injury. The long layoff resulted in him losing his ATP ranking. When he returned to tennis he had to start from scratch.
The adversity he was forced to overcome multiple times has likely played a part in his resurgent return: “It wasn’t always easy, of course, but I think I learned a lot about myself, about life in general and built a good mindset in this period.
“I was fortunate enough to surround myself with great people, people who have great experience, not only in tennis or other sports, but, for instance, in business as well. I am sure I learned so much from all of them and it helped me get through this tough time.”
His time away from the court also gave him a new perspective; an appreciation for the ability to simply compete and play the sport he loves rather than dwelling too much on victory or defeat.
“It’s tough to get rid of this feeling that winning or losing is the most important thing when you compete on a regular basis. Once that is gone, you start appreciating it more 100%.”
Sky Sports Scholarship
Another key factor that aided his comeback was the role of the Sky Sports Scholarship program, of which Altmaier was one of the twelve athletes selected. Altmaier has nothing but praise for the initiative and the many ways that it has supported him during his young career.
“The Sky Scholarship program is a fantastic, one of a kind program that helped me massively, especially in the tough times that I have been going through in the last couple of years.
“The financial support it provided was obviously incredible, but I was even more impressed with the human side of the project.
“They have opened so many opportunities for me and introduced me to so many inspiring people, especially in the boxing world [including Anthony Joshua and David Haye] and I will always be grateful for that.”
The Sky Scholarship offers its athletes financial aid, both a sporting and business executive mentor, media training, personal development and work experience.
Altmaier’s mentor is Sky Sports boxing broadcaster Adam Smith: “We started off our relationship as mentor-student, but it grew to us becoming very close friends and he is a massive influence in my career. I am sure I have a friend for life in him and that’s truly amazing.”
“My goal was always winning a Grand Slam title”
Altmaier’s ATP ranking was 186 before Roland Garros and has risen further due to his performance at the tournament. On the men’s side in Paris three players outside the top 100 – Altmaier, Sebastian Korda and Hugo Gaston – reached the last 16.
These players have predominantly competed on the Challenger Tour, the second tier of professional tennis, during their careers so far.
This feat did not surprise Altmaier, who is keen to praise and promote the level on the Challenger Tour, which he argues does not receive the recognition that it deserves.
“The level in CH (Challengers) is much higher than people think. Of course, the conditions were different this year to a normal year in Paris, but I believe the main reason is the fact that a lot of players on the CH (Challenger) Tour have the level to compete with the top 100 or top 50 guys.”
Tennis is in a time of transition, and although it was ultimately Rafael Nadal who once again lifted the Roland Garros trophy there will soon be a new crop of players winning Grand Slams regularly. The majority of those players will have learnt their trade on the Challenger Tour.
Altmaier said: “I think men’s tennis is going through a big change at the moment. Obviously, what Roger [Federer], Nole [Novak Djokovic] and Rafa are doing is out of this world and they are absolute legends, but I believe that behind their backs there will be interesting things happening in the near future.
“I think a lot of young players are showing potential and it’s time for that potential to shine on the big stage and on a more regular basis than now.”
Altmaier is adamant that he wants to be one of those players in the future, as his aspirations have never changed. His primary goal? To win a Grand Slam.
“People who know me know I always believed in myself. Perhaps some might think I am overconfident, but if I won’t believe in myself and if I won’t think I can compete with the best and put myself in a position to win a Grand Slam one day, who will?
“So yes, I always had the confidence, even when I lost my ATP ranking in February last year. Nothing changed for me.
“My goal was always winning a Grand Slam title and I will keep doing whatever I can to make this dream of mine a reality.”