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Locker Room: Damir Dzumhur

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Originally published on 11/04/14

We caught up with the 21-year-old to talk skiing, rankings and the Davis Cup.

When did you start playing tennis?
I was five years old, but my father is a tennis coach, so even when I was three, and during the war, I often went to the court.

Do you remember much about the Bosnian war of 1992-1995?
No, I was too young, but people around me still remember it.

What part of Bosnia are you from?
I live in Sarajevo, the capital. When I was young I could have played tennis for Croatia, but I chose to play for Bosnia. Marin Cilic, Ivan Ljubcic and Ivan Dodig are all from Bosnia but chose to leave. It is a small country, but one that has many talented people. I love my country.

Do you enjoy playing Davis Cup?
Yes, I always enjoy Davis Cup. In April last year we had a tie against Moldova. I played two singles matches and doubles. I was on court for around 12 hours and I ended up in hospital after that. Unfortunately it was not enough as we did not win the tie. But I play with a full heart for my country.

Do you think your success at the Australian Open will inspire people in Bosnia to play tennis?
I hope that people will come and watch our Davis Cup ties. Tennis has not been that popular but now I hope that because I have played at a high level, children who don’t know what to do will play tennis and know they too could play at the top.

Are there many tennis courts at home?
No. Even today we have only one normal hard court in the whole of Sarajevo. That court was built this year.

What enabled you to get through qualifying and then to the third round at the Australian Open?
When I played through qualies, almost everybody said I had no chance. I talked to my parents and coach and I believed. Believing in myself helped me a lot. I was very relaxed when I came on court for my first round match [against Jan Hajek] and I played my best tennis. I was a bit lucky in the second round [Ivan Dodig retired]. The third round was tough because Tomas Berdych is one of the best players in the world.

What are your ambitions and have they changed since Australia?
Before the Australian Open I had hoped to be in the top 150 in the world. Now I hope I can make the top 100.

Novak Djokovic spoke to you after your third round match. What did he say?
He congratulated me and said that I will play more and more matches at this level. Novak is one of the best players in the history of the game and so his words mean a lot to me. I am proud that a player like that said these words to me. I met him once before, in Monte Carlo, when I was 16 years old. He won’t remember that, but I know his brothers very well.

Berdych said after the match that you were a guy with a “pretty nice future”.
I will work hard to get that nice future.

What was the reaction from people at home when you played in Australia?
The whole of Bosnia did not sleep. Everyone was watching on TV. I think this is great for a small country. It’s a big thing for Bosnia. It’s like the football players who qualified for the World cup in Brazil for the first time. That was huge and this is what people compare it with.

Did you play any other sports when you were young?
I played football and I still ski. In Sarajevo we are only half an hour away from the mountains. When I was about nine a coach from the skiing federation spotted me and offered to support me as a skier. My father told him that I was already playing tennis. I was quite sad at that time because I wanted to both play tennis and ski.

What else do you do away from tennis?
I like reading books, particularly autobiographies by sports people. I have just finished a book about Djokovic.

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