Tennis is my dream. It is what I love. And it is what I want to be best at.
A lot of this younger generation has been playing great tennis. I still haven’t felt that I’ve reached the level that I want. Obviously, I was eighth in the world two years ago and thought things were going to get even smoother for me from then on. I realize what I can improve and what I can be better at in certain situations out on the court. That’s what’s important for me right now.
I have a good temper but I don’t like people crossing me too much.
For some people it is their life but I don’t see tennis being that for ever. Right now this is my priority and what I want to do. I’m winning and my goals are far ahead but after that I’m done with tennis. I like designing, creating and working on new things. I’ll never be a good tennis coach.
I paint or maybe do a couple pictures of friends. I design clothes, for example. This is who I am. It’s very hard when people tell you, “Here, this is what defines you.” I love tennis. But even if I become the greatest of all time, I still don’t only want to be defined by tennis. I’m my own person. And I want to be remembered as I really am. I’m so much more than tennis.
It depends on the player. I’ve played Novak quite a few times. I’ve played Andy more than anyone. But for me, every time I play against Roger (Federer), I learn the most. Obviously, the outcome is the same because I haven’t beaten him yet, but I really learn a lot.
I don’t see her (Maria Sharapova) how everybody else does. Other things in life are much more important than that. It’s about the person and how they are with me. She’s the greatest competitor that is still playing the game but that stops right there for me because I feel I’m a much deeper person than all that.
The matches are good to watch so you can see how the players are in certain situations —how they play, for example, in the moments of a big match. Those are the moments when you rely on yourself. You can’t rely on your coach or anyone else to scout that. I was waking up pretty early the past couple of matches so I could watch.
Nowadays social media is all around. I always say, “In order to be irreplaceable, you must be different.” But I’ve tried to be as private as I can be. We’re in the public all the time. Even when we’re warming up in the stretching area, we have cameras there. This is crazy.
Tennis has changed so much over the years. The top 100 guys can beat anyone. And you hear a lot of, “He’s 25 or 26 years old and hasn’t won a Grand Slam.” But it will come. I’m a strong believer in that. It just takes time. You need to accept it and just keep working, especially in the era that we’re playing in right now.
It’s tough to compare men’s tennis to women’s tennis. You have the dominance of Serena, but you’re right, you can see the cracks where players can come up. But it’s a mental challenge more than anything else. When you play Novak or Roger, it’s mental. You can’t move them in any way or another, and that’s when your decision making changes. You know what you have to do. You know how to play. And yet still you have to ask, “Okay, what could I have done better to make less unforced errors?”
I’m a very creative person in general. I like to create stuff in my downtime off the court. If I were to tell you everything I do, you would be like, “Do you really play tennis?”
I respect the top guys and all that but when we come face to face I want to win.
There comes a time when you realise that you can play good tennis as well and you feel confident. I can’t wait to see how big I can go.
Nothing else compares: my first trophy in Stockholm, then winning a 500 event, beating Novak in Madrid, I remember all those moments, like Wimbledon, those were huge moments. But I remember when I was number one as a junior, I said to myself, “Well, you’re going to turn pro.” But I felt like I was already living my dream.
My father was my tennis coach. So when someone asks me, “What would you be if you weren’t a tennis player?” it’s almost impossible to answer because there was just nothing else that I was really interested in. When I was around 12, I realized, “Well, I think I’m kind of good at it, and I want to keep doing it.”
It’s just my father – we’ve always been so close, and we just did things and it’s kind of grown on us over the years so we got into these routines.
When we were out on the courts I never counted him as my dad, he was just my coach. So many times he kicked me out of practice because of my behaviour. He treated me like everybody else. That is one of my biggest assets and has helped me become the person I am. He never spoilt me. He was very clear and straight up with me from an early age.
Tennis was just in my genes. My father was a coach, my mother was a former volleyball player so, for me, all the way there was nothing else but tennis. My father loved the single-handed backhand so to him that was the main goal, we were always fascinated by that shot. He taught me all the technique and how to structure my game. I was really privileged to have a father like that.
I left the country (Bulgaria) when I was 12 to train. I was in California for a bit. I got invited to attend an academy. I was there, and things were going good. I was beating a lot of guys. As I kept playing, I was becoming better and better. But I’m never going to forget those early years, especially during juniors, because I enjoyed that time the most of my career. Those were the best years of my life by far.
Wealth was non-existent in our vocabulary. I grew up in a really poor neighbourhood surrounded by a lot of obstacles, so to speak. It was just a tough area. It wasn’t easy to walk out on the street. There were always things happening around. It was a mixture of crime and an unsafe environment.
It (Bulgaria) is just a little poor country and what am I doing here, basically. That’s fine with me. I have had the opportunity to change my nationality but I never chose that.
You’re in the public eye all the time, and that’s also where all the pressure comes in, and everyone reacts in a different way. I’m sure some are more provoked by this stuff. I have accepted it because I know where I come from and I know what I’m used to. I like to say I have a little bit of an older soul. So, in my head, I’m very clear with a lot of things. And there are things, whether you like it or not, you just have to do.
Nowadays, with social media, everyone knows everything. But I’m not one of those guys that reads any of that stuff.
When reporters ask private questions after your matches, I’ve always believed it’s an invasion. You’re there because you won your match, not because of what’s happening in your private life.
I’m starting to find my little spot in each city and a room to stay that feels a little more homey. Maybe my vanity is coming out more because, when I go to a hotel, I’m like, “Listen, guys, can you please just make sure I have this kind of blanket and that kind of pillow? And maybe a few candles?”
I’m living in hotels. I’m almost 25 right now, and I have my place in Europe and all that, but I’ve never really settled in one place. I think with each year, I’m starting to feel it more and more, you know, to come back home and be like, [sighs] “Okay, this is home. You can drop your stuff.”
I was 17 and staying with friends at the end of the Northern Line. I had no coach, nobody, and took the Tube every morning at 6am. It was an hour and a half to get to Barons Court. I had my Oyster card, and was just a guy with a racket bag, listening to my music.
I never felt restricted. Of course, there were a lot of sacrifices, but it was never a problem for me because I knew what I wanted. And my parents never made one decision for me. They always asked me, “Do you want to do this or not?” So every decision that I’ve made so far in my life, it’s been on me. I don’t have regrets for that; I have regrets for other things.
I just want to live my life the best way I can and enjoy the moment that I have off the court because you need to find a good balance. I think this is very important.
One of my goals is to get back to the top 10; it’s a long way. I need more than a thousand points to get back into it. It’s just going to take time. I just have to go through those hard rounds, the first hard rounds, and I’m sure I’m going to play early against players that are tough to beat. Any other big goal for the moment is no use.
I don’t know about sports psychology or any of that. If for example someone from my team says ‘hey, maybe you should try that’, I’m always open to try things in general.
I have started to enjoy the process again. I’m enjoying the work again. I’m enjoying waking up in the morning early to come to practice. I’m enjoying doing the ice baths again. I’m enjoying pretty much everything that I do.
I’m very easy on that because I love the Olympics. I love the idea of something happening every four years. I’ve always had love for Bulgaria, and I’ve always been a Bulgarian. That’s also really part of why I want to play it. I know it’s tough for the calendar, but at the same time, it’s the Olympics.
I guess some things are inevitable. As soon as someone starts doing good, everyone’s starting to exaggerate about how he’s better than this guy was and all that.
You need a bit of luck, of course, but you make your own luck.
I have a lot of input on the Nike shoes and a couple of other projects. It’s been a great process. I’m always very excited when I do things like that, because it’s something I can really relate to.
I have always been the kind of guy to adjust to anything. I never cared where I was going to sleep or what court I was going to practise on. I can afford a nice car and a nice place but this is not what brings me happiness. Now you’re on a high and people know you and things like that, but how many people will remember your name once it all stops and the money isn’t raining from the sky?
I was being really rebellious, just doing whatever I felt like. I would party non-stop, hang out with friends and was always late for practice. I got expelled from the academy a couple of times – for a lot of things, I can’t say them all.I would say those times were among the best of my life.
I’ve already been thinking like this for more than a few years but it’s never easy to make that next step and really jump over the hurdle. Once you find that real good formula you know the results will come.
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