10 Mar 2015

Grega Zemlja (SLO) - OPT Circuit interview

Text Interview

By OPT Circuit

Photo: OptCircuitGrega Zemlja (SLO)

OPT Circuit interviews Slovenian Grega Zemlja, singles champion at the Iran F5 tournament 


Can you provide a brief summary of your professional career to date?

I started tennis when I was 7-years-old. My father was a ski jumper and in the beginning I was alpine skier. But then I started tennis and I was always in the Top 3 in Slovenia. Those days I was playing really well and easily playing in junior Grand Slams. But when I reached the Top 300 I was struggling a bit. For three years I was [ranked] around 300. [In 2008] I won a Challenger in Mexico. That was a highlight in my life because the best Slovenian player was No. 197 in ATP rankings and that year I beat that record.

Since then I was going higher. Finally I reached the Top 100 after winning a Challenger 100K. Then I was in 2012 final of Vienna ATP 250. I reached the Wimbledon third round [in 2013] but suddenly I was diagnosed with mononucleosis. I played a few tournaments.

At that time I could play at eighty per cent but I needed to play at one-hundred percent as I was losing my matches. After the US Open I decided to stop because I couldn’t do my best and I stopped for two months. Then I came back and tried to play in two tournaments but it didn’t work out. But now I’m feeling better. Still not one-hundred per cent but close. 

Before your illness, what was your target and where did you see yourself?

That time I was around 50 in the world. I remember starting the year really good. I had very good preparations. In Qatar Open in Doha, I lost in the second round in the third set tie break against Gasquet. After that I felt sick and I had to retire from my next tournaments (this included the 2013 Australian Open).

My goal was to go higher and higher. I realized that being in the Top 50 was nothing that special. I also beat the guys in the Top 10. I was confident. I wasn’t losing any points. With the form and the shape I was in, I could go Top 20 without any problem. I believe in the normal way it could happen. 

Is there any secret you can share with young players to get to this level and mentality?

There is no secret. When I was 15–20 years old, I was not working hard enough. I was always looking at the clock to see when the training would be finished. I didn’t enjoy practicing that much. I guess when I got to 22 or 23 I realised tennis is what I am good at and this is my career and I have try to do my best to reach the maximum level I am capable of and started to work harder and harder.

I was around 300. I started working hard from morning to evening focusing only on tennis and my shape. I increased my fitness level with speed and stamina. In modern tennis, it is not like before that you need only talent, soft hands and some techniques. You need good physics and level of fitness. I did this and I guess that’s why I reached Top 50.

So it is possible for all the players to change the life aged 23 and when they are around 300…

It is always possible. Maybe there are some players reaching their maximum potential already when they are around 300 but also there are some players who never reach their all of the potential. May be they need other coaches, motivations, ambitions, money. Everything has to work in one piece to reach one-hundred per cent.

And what about the ITF Pro Circuit events?

Well I have not played in the ITF Pro Circuit tournaments [regularly since 2008] so I do not clearly remember what it was like. But these tournaments helped me a lot to improve. Playing in Iran Futures helped me to see how my body is doing and gain some confidence. Young players around the world could earn points and experience in ITF Pro Circuit and going to higher level.

How did you view the OPT Circuit?

I really like the way of organisers treating [players]. They are doing really hard to make the players feel good and comfortable. I know it was the first tournament on hard courts in Iran. The courts are really nice. I like the surface. The quality of courts and the speed were exactly like what I like. Everything is going well to have a big reputation for OPT Circuit.

You've played against Roger Federer three times. How does it feel playing against him?

Well. It is kind of funny. The first time I played against Roger was when I qualified in Doha. Me and my coach started to work together on tactics before the match. He said: ‘how we are going to do this? How we are going to prepare the tactics against Roger’? I said: ‘I watched him maybe 300 times on TV and know how he plays’ (laughs).

It was funny to play against him because I was going to play against my idol. But when I played against him next time I was less excited and more felt like I can beat him. With my rankings, with my goal, with my opponent I felt like I’m getting better and better and winning over him is more possible than before.

Do you remember what was in your mind ten seconds before your first match against Roger? Did you see winning capability in yourself?

First time no. I was not even in Top 100. Maybe I was 130 or more. Those days I always thought facing Top 100 players is a scary thing and Roger was number 1 or 2. But after that I believed it is possible.

And now after playing in several big tournaments, what is your goal and what is your motivation to get back into tennis?

Well, OPT Circuit is my third tournament. I still don’t know where I am. I think I’m going up. And this is exactly what I need. It depends how my body is going to react. I think I am good now but I’m prepared to stop the whole things if my body feels bad. Anyway after final I guess I’m good and now I’m going to go to Challenger level again. I’m trying to get wild cards.