EXCLUSIVE: Gilles Muller Talks Injury, Confidence Issues And Retirement Plans
The player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon last year looks at the present and to the future during a special interview with Ubitennis.
LONDON: Blessed with one of the most effective serves on the tour, Gilles Muller’s first round win at The Fever-Tree Championships appeared routine. Until you look at the wider picture.
The 35-year-old veteran is currently ranked 46th in the world. Prior to this week, he had only managed to win one match in six tournaments. Suffering most of his losses to players ranked outside the top 50. His losing streak came to an end at Queen’s following a tense 7-6(7), 7-6(6), triumph over Denis Shapovalov. Muller claimed the victory with the help of his blistering serve, firing a total of 13 aces and winning 96% of the points behind his first serve.
“It wasn’t the best performance that is for sure. It is never easy to start a new tournament. It’s the first round and you have to get used to the court.” Muller told Ubitennis.net afterwards.
“It wasn’t easy, especially after not winning many matches. So I can’t say my confidence is high.
“I’m very pleased to have won it.”
Monday’s clash with the Canadian Next Gen star was very much a match of fine margins. During the opening set Muller missed out on three chances to clinch a 7-5 lead, before snatching the tiebreaker with the help of a Shapovalov forehand into the net. Then a case of Deja vu occurred in the second with both players remaining resilient behind their serve. Nevertheless, Muller managed to seal victory on his third match point after a return of the Shapovalov serve forced the Canadian to produce an unforced error.
“The serve today was working quite well. That always helps, especially against a guy like Denis, who is always hitting the ball very hard from the baseline. Once we were in a rally it was very hard to take control because he was hitting the ball so hard.” He evaluated.
“It was always important to dictate the points from my serve onwards and that was working quite well today.“
The injury woes
A lot has changed over the past 18 months. 2017 was a year filled with delight and heartbreak for 6’3” Muller. After ending a 15-year wait for an ATP title at the Sydney International, he claimed his second five months later in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Then at Wimbledon he downed Rafael Nadal 15-13 in a five-set marathon encounter. Finally the Luxembourg No.1 was on the up. That was until an elbow injury cut short his season. An issue that continues to hinder him.
“To be honest, my elbow isn’t 100 per cent. I’m always trying to find a way to be fit for the matches and not work too hard outside of the matches.” Muller openly admits.
“It is tough to find that balance and I haven’t found it yet.”
In order to continue playing, a plan has been implemented. Muller conducts daily treatment on his elbow, which may need attention multiple times during some days. Earning $5.79 Million in prize money throughout his career, he has ability to to hire a Physio to travel with him. Although it is more a necessity than a luxury.
“I have treatments every day, a couple times a day. I’m travelling with a Physio because otherwise I think it wouldn’t be possible to play.”
Fortunately, he can seek solace in the fact that he is playing during one of his favorite times of the year. The grass is the perfect surface for Muller to capitalize on his service game.
“It’s the nicest moment of the year when the clay (season) finishes and I’m ready to play on the grass. This year I haven’t had the best start on the grass. But with the win today my confidence is going up and I hopefully be able to keep on performing like I have done today.” He reflected.
Life after tennis
Muller is a late bloomer on the tour. Not winning his maiden ATP title until the age of 33. He is one of the growing numbers of players playing later in their careers. Although he knows that he is approaching the finishing stages of his career. When he made his ATP debut back in 2002, Shapovalov was just three-years-old.
So what does the future hold for him? Muller confirms that he has been thinking about his retirement, but remains committed to playing for now. As to what they might be, he is aiming to one day elevate the sporting profile of his home country. According to the ATP, Luxemburg has two plays of the official ranking system. Muller at 46 and Alex Knaff at 1283.
“I’m not sure yet. Obviously I want to stay in sport.” He said about his future retirement.
“Try to help develop a program in Luxembourg that can be helpful for young kids to fulfil their dreams in sport.”
Addressing why the talent in his country remains so limited. Muller has his own interpretation. For him, it is not due to ability. Insisting that the structure to guide young athletes “is not right.” Something he hopes to correct in the future.
“I think we have a lack of young athletes that believe in themselves. There is talent, but they never believe in themselves. I think I can help change that.” He explained.
Muller will resume his campaign at Queen’s on Wednesday where he will take on top seed Marin Cilic. Regardless of the outcome, he already feels like a winner given his recent misfortunes.
“I’m just trying to enjoy today’s victory. I haven’t thought about the next match. I just want to go home, watch football and relax.” He concluded in an upbeat manor.