As the year ends, experts look for the candidate to the "most improved player" award. Martin Klizan from Slovakia is one of the top contenders. He also shows a new tennis era's pattern of becoming successful. Times of the teen slam winners are gone; a talented boy not born in the wealthiest country needed six years and four months between Roland Garros junior title and his first ATP crown in St. Petersburg.
Klizan was born on 11th July 1989 in Bratislava. He's 190 cm, weighs 77 kg, plays with the left hand. He owes his career to his impatient father, who couldn't listen to persistent 3-year-old Martin hitting a foam ball against the wall, and took him to a real tennis court. At the age of 5 Klizan already had his first coach. Later it brought a fruit of a great junior career and #1 place in this category. The first success was European Championship in singles and doubles with Andrej Martin
. "This is when I thought I could be a tennis pro. I checked the list of previous winners and saw Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg among other big names and I thought, maybe I'm the next one?"
His Roland Garros singles title came in 2006. Yes, there was only one title, although Martin writes in the English version of his personal website martinklizan.com that he also won in doubles. Perhaps it's due to bad memory - he won many other tournaments in doubles and played Wimbledon final twice (by the side of Slovak Andrej Martin
and Czech Roman Jebavy
The switch from junior to senior tour started off brutal. Although Klizan reached the semifinal of Kosice Challenger, quarterfinal on Lexington Challenger and even won his first ATP match in Washington (d. Konstantinos Economidis
) already in 2007, the next months meant a struggle through futures and challenger qualifying, and the results weren't very optimistic. "People said I was being disappointing, but it's because I had long lasting inflammation of tendons in my left hand,"
he excuses. "Anyway, I was a teenager, so I felt like a world's master and didn't need anybody's advice."
His first breakthrough happened in spring 2009, when he managed to qualify to a big challenger in Prostejov and reach the quarterfinal (beat Stefan Koubek
and Ivo Minar
on the way, before falling to Tomas Berdych
). He backed it up with two more quarterfinals of this level (Kosice, San Benedetto) and qualifying for Umag ATP event (lost to Alberto Martin
). In August he won his first futures title. Fall of 2010 was even more successful, as he made the Grand Slam debut at US Open and as a Wild Card he won his first challenger - a prestigeous event in Bratislava. He stopped playing futures and continued to build his ranking through challengers.
Season of 2012 gave new speed to the Slovak's career. Between middle of March and middle of May he achieved four challenger finals, winning three of them. Then he won rounds of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and then - another boom - made a semifinal in Kitzbuehel. He didn't stop but won clay big challenger in San Marino, and nearly right away he kicked out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
from US Open, where he reached the fourth round, before the loss to Marin Cilic
"I wanted to play really good tennis with the top star player. I played very, very well today. I mean, I was concentrating on each point and I won. I didn't look at him if he was getting frustrated, only at myself" Klizan
described the match against Tsonga. He said the fact of reaching the 4th round was more important than the win over the top ten player.
St. Petersburg maybe didn't have the strongest line-up, but to win any ATP title you need to be mentally ready, and the head was usually Martin's weakest point. He used to be known of spectacular chokes and wasted chances. That's why his compatriot Karol Kucera
became his coach. Former #6 ATP player was to fix Klizan's head. "The work with Kajo begins to pay off this year - we worked on serve and strokes. He gave me a lot from the tactical point of view,"
reveals the player, who considers forehand as his best shot. "To have success on hard court I had to improve my serve, because this is the shot that gives the biggest advantage on hard."
The fitness coach responsible for preparation is Juraj Dulik
. He was with Klizan during the US Open match against Tsonga, not Kucera, who was only consulted by text messages. Their team also contains a psychologist.
Just like Novak Djokovic
needed a diet change for his progress, also Martin Klizan had this little thing which bothered him - problems with the feet. Finally, sneaker inserts designed specially for him helped to solve the problem.
Klizan was the first Slovakian player to win ATP title since Dominik Hrbaty
in 2004. In the final in St. Petersburg he beat Fabio Fognini
of Italy. "I wasn't nervous. I think the hardest match for me was against Mikhail Youzhny in the semis, so after that match I think I was playing pretty good,"
he said. "The US Open appearance gave me more confidence on the hard court; before it was low and I lost matches too easily. Still, clay stays my favourite surface, because I grew up on clay."
Who would have thought after two won Moroccan challengers in 2012 he said in the interview for Stars for Stars, "It was my extremally good shape. It happens in just 3-4 weeks a year. My goal for the end of the season is to stay within the top 100."
Reality exceeded dreams. In the same season he achieved career high #33 ATP.
Stars for Stars is a Slovakian agency which works with talented sportsmen from this country, also with Klizan and Dominika Cibulkova
On the personal side, Martin's parents are named Milan
. His dad is the general manager at an electric transformator company. Mom teaches English at the university and students say she's quite hot for her years. His sister, Natalia, works in London. Cousin Radovan Kaufman
won a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics in track cycling.
Growing up he admired Goran Ivanisevic
and Marat Safin
. His hobbies are computer games, floorball and, of course, hockey. He played a tournament when the hockey world championships took place and Slovakia came with silver. "I watched every match in a tournament's restaurant. Of course the most important is that we beat the Czechs. The final against Russia wasn't even important,"
Not very PC, right? True, Martin Klizan is known of his big mouth and his boldest statement is that tennis players below top 100 are keen gamblers. Perhaps if he accomplished his childhood dream and became a policeman he'd have a chance to chase them. "I didn't want to wear uniform. I wanted to give people fines,"
Martin is yet to finish highschool and complete the A-level. He took break from school to play tennis. "I don't need education to be a professional player, but a bit of education doesn't hurt."
He expresses special interest in events from the World War II and tries to explore related cities when he's on tour. He surely has a talent for languages - speaks Slovak, English, Czech, Croatian, Polish and some Russian.
Unlike many sportsmen who pick up the racquet after their parents first checked tennis incomes, Martin Klizan has an interesting take on this topic, "I don't think of money tennis brings, I play out of love for the game. I do it from the morning to the evening and just get my salary. It would be nice if I could secure my future with earning enough, but we'll see how it looks after ten years."
Yes, we'll see. The talent and the strong team to support him is there for sure.
Nathii & Juraj
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