Sebastian Ofner: “Wimbledon? Unreal, I prepared it with one day on a football pitch”

If you were to name one surprise of the first week in the men’s Wimbledon draw, most would definitely call Sebastian Ofner’s run to the third round. The 21 year old came to the qualies as world number 217 and, most of all, without having ever played on grass before. As Wolfgang Thiem, Dominic’s dad and Ofner’s coach, said, they only played one day on a football pitch behind the club’s courts in Vienna and even himself did not believe his pupil could do something so extraordinary. The guy from Bruck-an-der-Mur surprised himself as well as everyone else and, despite having never played an ATP tournament, he showed all of his talent and skills to pass three tricky rounds of qualies in Roehampton and then obtain two incredible wins over Thomaz Bellucci and Jack Sock, before surrendering to Alexander Zverev.
As often it is hard to understand the importance of the results one is obtaining while in the heat of the tournament, we reached Ofner during his short stay at home, a few days after flying home from London.
Hi Sebastian, congratulations for the incredible fortnight in Wimbledon. Are you already back training? Have you finally realised what you did in London?
Hi, thanks! I took a couple of days off to be back at home, but I got back training on Wednesday as I took a train to Vienna. This weeks felt very good and once you get back home you realise even more what you did. Of course as I was progressing I was realising what was happening, but you always think about the next match, because the tournament is not over until you keep winning. So you are in the tournament focus until the end and it wasn’t until one day after I lost to Alexander Zverev that I fully realised what I did”.

And how was coming back at home?
I was at my parents’ place and it was great, because many people were waiting for me and congratulating for what happened and it felt pretty awesome, yes!
You come from near Bruck an der Mur, where a few famous skiers were born, like the Goergl siblings. How come you picked up tennis instead?
It’s true, tennis is not a very famous sport in my area and in Austria in general. But when I was 6 I picked it up near my home town. When I was 12 I was good enough for the county federation and two years later I was selected by the national one. Since then I have been with them”.
Wolfgang Thiem, your coach, said that he believed in your chances, but was still very surprised by your week as you only trained on grass once and it was for a day on a football pitch!
Yes, it’s true, we trained for a full day on the football court near our club, then in Wimbledon I trained for 2 hours before my first match and honestly it was very surprising for me as well that it worked out so well!
So it was kind of a love at first sight with grass, wasn’t it?
Yes, you can say that. With that preparation I am surprised as well that the surface suited me so well”.

I want to stay focused on each step and first reach a stability of results on the Challenger tour

What do you think happened for your game to click in Wimbledon? I know you were coming from a few good weeks, especially the final of the ATP Challenger in Mestre, but this result is definitely on a higher standard.
As you said, right before Wimbledon I gained confidence with a final and a quarterfinal in the ATP Challenger tour, but only three months ago I was playing Futures in Greece. When I got into the draw of the qualies, I thought I could win a round or two there, but reaching the third round was unexpected and amazing. Everything there was huge for me, completely different from any tournament I have ever played before, but now I will stick to Challengers for a while and try some ATP 250 at times. I think this result will give me the confidence but won’t change the fact that I started with Challengers only a few months ago and I reached only one final and one quarter, so I have to think one step at time”.

So what is exactly now on your schedule?
I will play the Challengers in the Nethelands and in Tampere, Finland. Then I will play the ATP in Kitzbuehel in Austria. I am yet to plan the rest of the summer on the details, but I think I will go to the US for some challengers and maybe one more ATP tournament before the US Open qualies”.
I know that in Austria clay tennis is the most common one, how did you happen to have a game that suits fast surfaces?
That’s a difficult question. Maybe it’s because my serve is pretty good and this helps a lot on grass; also my backhand is very flat and it seems like it’s made for fast surfaces, but I think what was key is that I move very well and that is fundamental on grass. My forehand has improved a lot in the past few months and that helped me a lot, because it became a lot more consistent than in the past”.

How important is it to have someone like Dominic (Thiem) whom you can look at and sometimes even train with?
I mean, that’s for me very important, because I can see and I can play with him and this helps my game improving a lot, of course. You can see the areas where you need to improve to get there and by comparing what you do just learn what you need to do to improve. For this, I believe it’s very important to have a player like Dominic around”.
I also know that you kind of decided to go full time on tennis not long ago, how did you make this choice?
I mean, I finished school and only then I sat with my team and with them I decided to play professional. Before I used to be a good junior, I mean, in Austria I was among the best ones in my youth. Many people kept telling me that I had a good potential and I could reach something in tennis, so I said I would try, but only until I am 24-25 with a goal to reach the top 100. Now I am 21 and I will be almost top 150, so I guess it was the right decision”.
So what do you think will change in terms of goals after Wimbledon?
You know, I don’t think much will change: I want to stay focused on each step and first reach a stability of results on the Challenger tour and then move to the ATP”.
On a pretty different topic, I was checking some stuff before this call and on the German Wikipedia page of Bruck-an-der-Mur you have just been added to the list of important people who were born there…
[laughs], I did not know that. But it is a small place and it must be special for everyone. You know, in Styria we had Thomas Muster, but then for a long time we only had Oliver Marach, who was in the top 100 for little. So for people there it felt special that someone from such a small place reached something like a third round at Wimbledon and I think it is also important for the young ones!
One last thing, but I don’t know if you saw it, but on twitter, especially, a lot of people were very fond about your hairstyle… but curiosity, since it’s quite different, where does it come from?
Yeah, [laughs], I read about it. After the final in Mestre I thought I would change my haircut and wanted a new one. I definitely did not know that people would start talking about that on the internet comparing it to Falco! But yeah, it was a pretty good congratulation, I think”.

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