It’s hard to believe, but just three months ago Damir Dzumhur was fighting just to stay in the Top 100. This week, already at a career-high No. 55 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and set to compete in the St. Petersburg Open quarter-finals Friday, the 25-year-old from Bosnia & Herzegovina is knocking on the door of the Top 50.
His impending breakthrough is reward for a stellar eight-week stretch, underpinned by an enhanced fitness regimen, that included a run to the semi-finals in Los Cabos and his first tour-level final in Winston-Salem.
It’s been a heartening comeback for Dzumhur, who grew up playing on clay but endured a rough European clay-court season this year, robbing him of the momentum he built on hard courts earlier in the year, which included a win over Stan Wawrinka
“I expected to do well on clay; I trained on clay but the results weren’t showing,” Dzumhur said. “I was playing without confidence. After one or two losses in a row you think about it a lot; it gets into your head.”
Out of form and with doubt setting in, Dzumhur made a strategic move to head west after another first-round loss on the dirt — this time in Hamburg — and try his luck in North America.
The impact was immediate: In his first tournament on hard courts since the Miami Open in March, Dzumhur reached the semi-finals of the Abierto Mexicano de Tenis Mifel Open in Los Cabos, Mexico. One week later on green clay, he battled his way to the final of the Miles Open at La Bocha Challenger in Santo Domingo. The Bosnian then followed that performance with five straight singles victories at the Winston-Salem Open
to reach the first ATP 250 final of his career.
“I made a good decision to play the tournaments I entered,” Dzumhur said of his productive summer swing. “Sometimes you have to choose the right tournaments for you at the time. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it helps."
By the time Dzumhur hit New York in late August, the slump of early-round losses was behind him. In fact, Dzumhur saw his US Open
third-round loss to eventual quarter-finalist and Next Gen ATP player Andrey Rublev
as a failure to meet his own, now loftier expectations.
“Playing the third round at any Grand Slam is a big deal; I was looking forward to good results at Slams this year but still I was a little disappointed I didn’t make it through to the fourth [round] because I played well,” Dzumhur said. “But overall I’ve been very happy with performances over the last two months.”
Changes of surfaces and locales aren’t the only factors in Dzumhur’s surge in success. The Sarajevo native has dedicated ample time off the court to being more robust in hopes of boosting his level of play and dealing with the rigours that come with competing against taller, naturally stronger players week after week.
“I’ve worked a lot on my fitness the last two weeks,” Dzumhur said. “It was one of my goals even before 2017, to work on my endurance. I didn’t play that well during the clay-court swing so I took some time then to work on my fitness as well.
“I’m not a tall guy so I try to mix up my serve, my shots. I feel like i can run and return very well, and when my serve is working, I play a lot better. I try to stay in long points and make my opponent nervous.”
Being in peak physical condition is something Dzumhur hopes will pay off not just in the immediate future but also in the coming weeks and months as he deals with the demands of a busy schedule.
“There are seven weeks left and I’ve decided to play all of them,” Dzumhur said. “I’m not tired, I’m hungry for more solid results. I might skip one of the weeks if I have good results the previous week. I’ll be in Beijing (China Open
), Shanghai (Shanghai Rolex Masters
), go back to Moscow (VTB Kremlin Cup
) and possibly Paris [Rolex Paris Masters
“I’m having a good time this year. It’s a busy schedule, lots of tournaments, but if you feel good at the end of the year, why not [play]?
With two victories already this week in St. Petersburg, the 25-year-old is on the cusp of reaching the Top 50 for the first time in his career. Still, Dzumhur sees room to grow and improvements that can be made if he’s to catapult himself closer to a Top-30 ranking in 2018.
“I want to keep the momentum going to finish the year and to start next year strong,” Dzumhur said. “I want to make my fitness even better and work on my serve. I know it will be tough, but I’d like to be closer to the Top 30 next year.”