Tennis: Allez Dan! Altmaier counts rewards from putting in hard yards

PARIS (Reuters) - After struggling with abdominal and shoulder ailments for two years, German Daniel Altmaier felt the need to strengthen his body -- and the lengthy shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the perfect opportunity.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - October 3, 2020 Germany's Daniel Altmaier during his third round match against Italy's Matteo Berrettini REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

After coming through the qualifiers at Roland Garros to make his Grand Slam debut, the 22-year-old, ranked 186th, reached the fourth round by beating Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4 on Saturday.

Altmaier broke onto the world stage in 2017 by reaching his first quarter-final on the ATP Tour as an 18-year-old but his career was soon derailed as he suffered a shoulder injury and then an unlucky fall on a hardcourt to hurt his hip.

But he did not give up and decided to put in the hard yards by going back to futures events and the ATP challenger tour.

“I had structure problems with my body, always muscle problems around that area, abdominal, hip area. This was just really not fun,” Altmaier told reporters after his third main draw win in straight sets.

“It’s a funny story how I got fit during Corona time. I was working via Zoom with my physical coach from Argentina. We worked 11 weeks basically in a room, every day, five, six times a week.”

Altmaier was also struggling with an injury before the French Open and needed a go-ahead from a doctor at the last minute to take part in the qualifiers.

The German, whose father is Ukrainian and mother is from Russia, joined Sebastian Korda and Jannik Sinner to reach the fourth round, making it the first time since 1994 that three men reached the last-16 at Roland Garros on their debuts.

“I always believed I can be here, I can perform good, I can play well and beat those guys,” said Altmaier. “I was working really hard with my team to be in this position, to feel stable, to really play well and compete against top guys.”

On court, Altmaier is often found pointing at the side of his forehead and saying “allez!” in French to motivate himself, just like the Swiss three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka.

“‘Allez’ comes a little bit from my idol Stan Wawrinka,” he said with a smile. “When I watched him, he always said, ‘Allez Stan!’. I did a little bit of copy because I like to say, ‘Allez Dan’.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Ian Chadband