‘Roger Federer was the toughest opponent from the Big Three. He was reading my game so easily’: Denis Istomin – NewsUnfolded

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It has been over four years since Denis Istomin last won an ATP title. After the highs of 2011 and 2012, where he had reached his career-best ranking, the Uzbek tennis player, five years later, had pulled off his biggest ever win, against Novak Djokovic in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open. But since then, there has been a gradual slip in his form which saw him incurring three back-to-back forgettable seasons, subsequently resulting in a fall in his ATP ranking to below top-450. He did show glimpses of his vintage self when he scripted an incredible run in the 2021 French Open qualifiers to run into Roger Federer in the opener.

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At 36, Istomin remains realistic that his chances of a comeback is far from possible given his fitness issues, but is also hopeful that he can still compete on big levels. And it is his very love for competition that has brought him back to India after four years, for the impending Tennis Premier League (TPL). The tournament begins from December 7 onwards in Pune where Istomin will be playing for Punjab Tigers.

Speaking to Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview, Istomin talks about the fourth season of TPL, tennis in India, his career and battle against the Big Three. Here are excerpts…

Q) This be your first trip to India since the 2018 Maharashtra Open. How does it feel to be back in this part of the world?

Yes, it is my first visit since 2018. It is always good to come back to India and enjoy some spicy food (laughs).

Q) What did you make of the tennis culture in India?

Tennis in India has a very long history with greatest players, especially in doubles, but one very important change is that India provides many tournaments which help local players improve and participate with the greatest players of the world.

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Q) Tell me a bit about you wanting to be part of the Tennis Premier League. How did it happen?

My friend Matt Ebden asked me if I wanted to play TPL this season, and I said yes, because I didn’t play a lot this year and I just wanted to play.

Q) Anyone in particular you are looking forward to playing against or alongside?

I enjoy playing and being on court and competing, that makes me happy. I don’t really care who is on opposite side of the court

Q) 2019 and 2020 haven’t been the best of years for you. But in 2021, in the French Open, you made an impressive run through the qualifiers to reach the main draw where you faced Roger Federer. Do you believe that even at 36, you can still reach those highs again?

Yes, in the last couple years I didn’t play my best, but some matches I really played on a high level. So if my body will allow me, I think I can reach a good level. I am not saying that I can comeback to top-100, but for sure can compete on big level

Q) What are your goals for 2023?

The most important goal for me is to be 100% physically, the rest will come.

Q) You have faced all of the Big Three, your most notable match being that 2017 Australian Open win against Djokovic. Who has been the tougher opponent of the three? What sets the three apart?

For me the toughest opponent was Federer, he was reading my game so easily and I always had a problem on the return of his serve. But all of them are the greatest players of the era. Each one has their own game and it was so difficult to compete.

Q) With Federer gone, and the next Gen trying to stake their claim, where do you see ATP tennis heading?

Tennis is going to be a more physical and powerful game, but there are so many good players who are already on top. The good thing is that it’s not only 3-4 players, there will be more and more, and that will make the sport even more interesting.

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