Superstitious Dzumhur Hoping Routine Reaps Rewards
Bosnian star prepares to take his game to the next level
It is a match day ritual that Damir Dzumhur cannot break free from. When he wakes, he showers, eats the same breakfast and heads on site, wearing his preferred tee-shirt to prepare for a match, where he avoids walking on the lines of a court; and then, during every change of ends, sips water, towels down, drinks a sports drink, towels down and drinks water, once more. Finally, upon his return to the clubhouse, he uses the same shower, stretches and takes a massage, eats the same food, and returns to his accommodation to relax, talk tactics and contemplate his next Groundhog Day.
The rituals, although not too dissimilar to Goran Ivanisevic’s myriad superstitions en route to his Wimbledon title run in 2001, were triggered as a junior and have become his effective, daily staple at every tournament. “It has to be the same if I won the previous day,” Dzumhur told ATPWorldTour.com. “For a while I tried not to be superstitious too much, scaling it back, but it didn’t work out. I know I may be crazy, but it works.”
You only need to look inside his parents’ three-bedroom, two-story flat in Sarajevo — on the top floor of a tower block with no lift — for evidence of their effectiveness: hundreds of trophies and medals scattered across shelving, shoeboxes and on the floor of his old bedroom, which, as a result, is difficult to enter.
After two straight weeks on grass and fresh from winning his third ATP World Tour trophy — his first on grass courts — at the Turkish Airlines Open Antalya on Saturday (d. Mannarino), Dzumhur has given himself the best possible chance to do well at The Championships this year. “The same player with confidence or without it, is a totally different player,” said 5’9”, 154-pound Dzumhur. “I know, myself, how I feel when I am confident. I’m physically well prepared, while mental strength comes with confidence and it helps give you the opportunity to play your best tennis.
“When I have confidence I am much cooler on the court, talk less to myself or to my team [including his coach father, Nerfid], and I break fewer racquets, in private, on the practice court. But if I have no emotions, it’s simply not me. I do need to talk to myself and get the energy to be confident. It helps me get the motivation to play well. But again, if I talk too much, I don’t play so well. It’s a real balance.”
Dzumhur’s hope to play with greater poise and resolve at Wimbledon was highlighted in his first match at the All England Club, a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Germany’s Maximilian Marterer on Tuesday. In the past 10 years, of the 17 players who have won an ATP World Tour grass-court title the week prior to The Championships, only four have advanced to at least the fourth round (or better) — David Ferrer (2009, quarter-finals), Feliciano Lopez (2014, fourth round), Steve Johnson (2016, fourth round) and Novak Djokovic (2017, quarter-finals). Dzumhur has made a point to play throughout the grass-court swing, aiming to better three straight third-round showings at the past three Grand Slam championships.
“My team always said I could play well on grass, but I brushed it off,” said Dzumhur. “It was only two years ago, when I beat defending champion Denis Istomin in Nottingham, then played Denis Kudla, and finally lost to [Pierre-Hugues] Herbert at Wimbledon, in five sets, that I realised I could do well. And even though I lost to Grigor Dimitrov at Queen’s Club [6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the first round of the Fever-Tree Championships] two weeks ago, it was a good match and a learning experience. So I travelled to Antalya with confidence, knowing my game was there and I could further improve.”
From No. 1,664 in the ATP Rankings at the end of 2009, to his current career-high of No. 23, Dzumhur has improved year-on-year, physically and mentally. It’s not bad for someone who used to bunk off school to watch from the touchline at the FK Zeljeznicar football stadium, a stone’s throw from his family home.
In reaching his first ATP World Tour final in August 2017 at the Winston-Salem Open, Dzumhur took another step, but was mistakenly happy to get to the championship match, rather than going into his match against Roberto Bautista Agut with a winning mentality. “I was a little bit tight,” says Dzumhur. “I went on the court, thinking reaching the final was good enough, but ‘I don’t have to win this’. You don’t have to think you have to do something, but being confident and having in your mind that ‘I can do this’, rather than ‘I did well’ and ‘it’s alright’ is very different.
“So from that first experience to my two finals in Russia [titles at the St. Petersburg Open and the VTB Kremlin Cup in late 2017] and last week in Antalya were completely different. I was better prepared mentally. After the first title, I fell to the ground and I was almost crying, but on Saturday after the Antalya final, I knew it had been a good week, but I needed to keep going. The emotions were different and I knew I needed to focus on Wimbledon. But winning three of the four finals shows that I can play well in big matches.”
A perennial figure in the Top 40 of the ATP Rankings since late September last year, Dzumhur is now close to breaking into the Top 20. “Winning in St. Petersburg and Moscow last year was a huge confidence boost for me,” said Dzumhur. “It was a vindication of the work I had undertaken and the support I received from my family. For much of my life, I have followed a routine in training on and off the court. It was always a goal of mine to be a tennis player and playing Futures and Challenger tennis for six years, you begin to question yourself. But at the Russian tournaments, I played with the right mentality and it highlighted to me what I needed to do to move up another level.”
With each step up the professional ladder, the 26-year-old has dealt with the pressure by operating on the basic of working hard for a reward. Do well and, for example, he buys a new phone or a pair of shoes, for bigger victories, such as his ATP World Tour title runs, it has been a car. “Sometimes I can be a bad loser, when things don’t go the way I want, I am moody,” said Dzumhur. “But to stay motivated and work towards a goal, I dangle the prospect of reward. It helps me to focus.”
Only time will tell if his career trajectory will mirror that of another great Balkan thinker and baseliner, Janko Tipsarevic, who traipsed across a tightrope of emotions to break into the Top 10. One thing is for certain, with a solid first serve and forehand, in addition to an ability to consistently return, the hard-working Bosnian is on the rise.