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How We Got Here: Denis Istomin

How We Got Here

Istomin© Getty ImagesDenis Istomin's heroes growing up were Pete Sampras and Marat Safin.

As part of Tecnifibre's ‘How We Got Here' series, Denis Istomin looks back on his journey to the ATP World Tour, from his earliest tennis playing memories to working his way up the Emirates ATP Rankings through the ATP Challenger Tour and ATP Futures events.

At what age did you start playing tennis?
I started when I was four years old.

What is your first memory of playing tennis?
It was when I was seven years old and played my first tournament in my country. I played with players who were 10 and made it to the semi-finals. It was a big memory for me.

What are your earliest memories of watching tennis on TV?
I was 11. I watched Pete Sampras but I don’t remember who he was playing. He was sweating a lot on court. It is still in my mind to work hard like him to become a top player.

How instrumental has your family been in your career?
My mom is my coach. She took me to play tennis when I was young. My father was my fitness coach, so we are like a sports family.

Who was your tennis hero growing up?
I had two. Pete Sampras and Marat Safin.

Did you ever string your own tennis racquets?
Yes, a long time ago, when I was young. I had an old machine and it took one hour to do. Now I’m so happy to give the racquets to the stringer to do as it took too much time (laughter).

What was the first tournament you won and did you win a trophy or a prize?
I won the national open cup in Uzbekistan when I was 10 years old. The opponents were 10 to 12. After this, I went up in the national rankings to No. 1. Then I started to play more outside of the country. As a professional, I won a Futures event in 2004. And then I won a $125,000 Challenger in Tashkent.

What was your first professional event and do you recall what your prize money cheque was?
I think it was in Moscow when I qualified for the ATP event there. I was 17 or 18. I don’t remember how much the cheque was.

Did you ever think you wouldn’t be a tennis player?
I’m not sure, because I started early and I’ve always been on the court. I just feel like I could play. I never thought about another life.

Did you always have access to good equipment?
When I was young, we had a lot of problems in our country with racquets and strings. I had two different makes of racquets with me. I played with Wilson all the time, but when the string was broken on that one, I had to use the Dunlop.

Can you remember how you went from playing Futures to the ATP Challenger Tour?
I played some Futures in Uzbekistan. I won four or five of those, so my ranking was going up and started to play Challengers the same year. I jumped fast to the Challengers. At the end of the year, I won the Challenger in Bukhara. Then I went into the Top 200 afterwards and started playing only Challengers.

And then, how did you graduate from the ATP Challenger Tour to the ATP World Tour?
I played a couple years there. I was going up and then dropping, so it was difficult for me. I won two Challengers in row in Uzbekistan and did one more quarter-final at a Challenger to get to No. 110 at the end of 2008. Then at the start of 2009, I played at Chennai and the Australian Open, won some points there and shortly made it into the Top 100 and began playing more ATP tournaments.

What are you memories of playing your first Grand Slam?
It was the 2006 Australian Open and was just my second [tour-level] tournament. I played against the World No. 1 Roger Federer. I lost in three sets, but it was a very good memory for me as I learned a lot and knew I had to continue working hard.

What went through your mind when you found out you would play Federer?
I didn’t believe it at the beginning. I didn’t check the draw, but my friend called me and told me. I was like, ‘Really?’ At first, I was not happy, but then I understood it was a good opportunity to show my game and learn from the biggest player in the world.

What advice would you give to the top juniors or young players who are at the Futures level at the moment?
Never give up and just work hard. Believe in yourself and think that you can do anything. It’s very tough, but you can get higher if you keep working.

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