You might not have heard of Daniel Altmaier.
The 22 year-old German has flown under the radar for much of his budding career. Overshadowed by other young guns–currently guys like Carlos Alcaraz, Lorenzo Musetti, and Thiago Seyboth Wild–Altmaier has largely gone unnoticed. Just another number in the deep German tennis field.
So, it’s always satisfying when a player like Altmaier qualifies for his first Major ever at the French Open. He wasn’t handed a wild card by virtue of his reputation. He earned it.
This was a moment that Daniel Altmaier had been building towards since the restart following the coronavirus hiatus.
The root of his appearance in the Roland Garros main draw could be attributed to his hard work during the pandemic. Altmaier played 23 matches, winning 16 of them. All of these matches were on clay.
So, it’s not surprising that when tennis returned, Altmaier succeeded on the clay court ATP Challenger Tour swing. Shortly after tennis started back up, Altmaier had already reached two Challenger semifinals. He beat very good players such as Tommy Robredo, Lorenzo Musetti, and Pablo Cuevas in straight sets on his way to these semifinals.
Yet, qualifying for the French Open was always going to be tough. Especially when Altmaier was drawn to face recent clay court Challenger finalist Tallon Griekspoor in the first round. But, Altmaier jumped out to a 3-0 lead in that match and didn’t look back, taking out Griekspoor 6-1 6-3.
After an easy second round win over Hiroki Moriya, Altmaier got his stiffest test of qualifying against Ruben Bemelmans. It was a three-set affair, with Altmaier taking the first set 6-3 and Bemelmans taking the second 6-1.
Serving first in the third almost certainly helped calm Altmaier’s nerves, as the pressure was always on Bemelmans to keep up. With the Belgians serving at *2-3, Altmaier finally got the breakthrough. Once he saved a break point in the next game, he was in the home stretch. Altmaier is going to make his major debut by virtue of a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 victory.
Altmaier did not get a terrible draw either. He is set to face 39 year-old Feliciano Lopez in the first round. While nerves might be a problem, Altmaier has the game to beat an older player like Lopez playing on his worst surface in a best-of-five format.
Meanwhile, as Altmaier told the ITF, clay is his favorite surface. It shows in his winning percentage too, winning 71% of his matches this season on clay vs 65% on hard courts.
But, Altmaier’s game is not your traditional clay courter. It’s is based on a big first serve and controlling the baseline. He likes to get on top of points and rip his big forehand and one-handed backhand. While Altmaier’s backhand is by no means flat, he seems less worried about spin on his backhand and more worried about his shots cutting through the court. Against Bemelmans, he hit eight aces to zeo double faults and won 77% of his first serve points. That is an impressive number on a slow surface like red clay.
If Altmaier can land a bunch of first serves, he can absolutely control points and make Lopez uncomfortable. Altmaier’s rally tolerance is fairly high, while Lopez’s is declining. He should make this match as physical as possible to force Lopez to feel all 39 years, which he can do by taking control of the points and not allowing Lopez to get to the net.
Altmaier is currently World No. 185 in the live rankings, just two spots away from his career high from earlier this month of World No. 183. A win over Lopez would see Altmaier climb even higher. A top 100 debut sometime over the next year or two is certainly a possibility.
It’s easy to dismiss players if they’re not winning Challengers by the age of 20. We live in a time where we overhype players who have success at a young age and dismiss the late bloomers. Just look at the type of hype someone like Coco Gauff has received.
Yet, a qualifying campaign from a player like Daniel Altmaier is a reminder of both the talent of players outside the top 100 and the hard work those players go through to finally get their moment in the sun. Altmaier didn’t play those 23 matches during the pandemic for fun, he used them as a strategic way to improve his game.
And it’s paid off.
In an interview with Sky Sports, Altmaier pronounced following some success in a 2018 Australian Challenger, “Something in tennis you need is to have a conversation with yourself and start thinking in the present because if your mind is not right then you lose focus and concentration.”
Altmaier was certainly concentrated this past week and there’s no doubt in my mind that this will continue against Lopez.
And, quite honestly, the only conversation Daniel Altmaier should be having with himself at this point is one where he tells himself: “Job well done.”
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