Illya Marchenko is a Ukrainian tennis player, with a career high ranking of 49 in the world in 2016. This big breakthrough was aided by a career-best win over then top 10 player David Ferrer at the Qatar Open. This was also backed up by a career-best grand slam result at the US Open, making it all the way to the 4th round. In this interview, my very 1st guest Illya discusses this career-best result amongst many other things. Hope you all enjoy!!
Illya, what are the best and worst aspects of being a professional athlete?
Best is to travel the world. Meet new people, see new places. The thing is one week can change your career. Emotional side of the game. But those are worst ones as well. Because we don’t have that stable life like normal people do. We can get injured and your career is done. We have limited time with our families.
You began playing tennis at the age of 7. What got you into the sport?
My father. As my brother was figure skater (mom’s choice), I became a tennis player (dad’s choice).
At what age did you start to believe you could be a professional tennis player?
Around 10 I guess. My dream was becoming professional, be top 100. At that time it looked so impossible
You turned pro in 2005. How were the first few years grinding on the notoriously tough ITF circuit? Any horror stories from your travels?
Well, I passed it pretty quick. I won my first future at the end of the year with a ranking of 450. After that, I preferred to play qualies of challengers mostly. Nigeria was a trip to remember. We had a police escort to the site equipped with AK47.
Winning the 2015 ATP Mons Challenger in Belgium.
Tennis is known to be a sport were unless you are top 150 in the world it is hard to make money. Were you aided much by your federation or sponsors?
Many good people helped me during my career. Some coaches worked for free or even found money to travel and to practice. At the age of 18, I got a proposition from Viccourt tennis club in Donetsk. And I was fully covered since then.
In 2010 you broke into the top 100. How was this feeling for you?
It was great. I was one of the youngest and had a lot of ambitions. Started to play big tournaments, playing on big stages.
The years to follow your ranking stayed mainly outside the top 100 and even out of the top 200 at one point. Was this tough mentally? Why do you think you could not sustain your top 100 ranking?
I got both knees injured. It was not that easy to make a surgery decision and to recover after that. I still feel pain and am used to play with it right now. It was limiting my preparations as well. Apart from that, I think my game was always there.
In 2015 and 2016 you, however, returned to the top 100 and as high as 49. One big result during this time was at the 2016 US Open where you made it all the way to the last 16. Did this prove to you that you could reach the 2nd week of slams?
That is the biggest achievement so far. After that, I haven’t won many matches and now I’m on the edge to drop out of 100 again. But now I know that I can do it, playing against best on biggest possible stages. It’s not the same when you play challengers centre court or even 250.
During his 2016 US Open run.
Do you feel your best is still ahead of you? You are nearly 30, but this is now considered a good age for tennis. Do you feel like you can continue for many more years?
If my body can handle it, why not. I believe I’m still improving. And I have a lot of things to learn. I still have that passion to compete, and motivation is not an issue.
You were remarkable with your coach Orest Tereschuk from 2009- 2014, which is a long stint these days it seems. What made this relationship work?
I broke the top 100 with him, then I worked one year with Pierre Gauthier and Oret at the same time. After that, I was in Break Point Academy for a couple of years with Burghard Riehemann. I am very thankful to every person who I worked with. Every single coach was trying his best and always did something extra for me. And this extra always made me feel special. Motivated me to work harder and with more discipline. It really amazes me how many good people I met on my way to professional sport. Some of them might think I forgot, but that’s not true. I remember every single person who worked with me.
Your match versus Andy Murray at the Australian Open was great quality and I think you can be top 30 easily based on this and matches I have seen of yours over the years. Do you have a ranking aim or goals in general for this year and beyond?
Right now my goal is to stay top 100. I’m losing a lot of points with not many wins behind my back. After that we can think again about top 50 and to finish the year with that ranking.
Finally the players on the ATP tour generally all seem to get along and have respect for each other compared to other sports. Would you say this is the case or at times not?
I believe it’s true. Of course we are not the best friends with everyone. But we all are in good relationships. Even with younger guys. Sometime on court emotions are overwhelming, but in locker rooms I think it’s not an issue at all.
Lastly some quick fire questions-
- Best match? Against Ferrer.
- Toughest match? Davis Cup, against Hanescu from 2 sets down.
- Toughest competitor? I have a huge respect to Nishikori in this aspect.
- Favourite memory from tennis? Winning on Arthur Ashe.
- Toughest training sessions? Early morning ones.
- Is the future of Ukrainian tennis looking strong? Hard to tell. Girls are on fire right now. And I don’t know many young guys. But maybe some of them don’t have an opportunity to travel, same as me I haven’t played many ITF tournaments.
- Why did you decide to not play much doubles? Singles is my priority and I want to focus to do my best there. My body is not letting me to do both without losing quality.
- Finally what do you do to relax? Play Station, Movies, driving.