Jan-Lennard Struff has learnt to be patient, it’s part of his make-up. He first questioned if he could ever be good enough, then adhered to his parents’ plea for him to formulate a Plan B and subsequently pondered how he could break into the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings by the age of 23. Today, as his reputation has burgeoned, his outlook has also changed. So just what advice would he give to his younger self? “When I recall my younger self, coming to tennis after high school, I’d tell him now to ‘Keep on working, it’s going to work out,’” Struff tells ATPTour.com. “‘The work, the fun you had, just continue to do the same thing. It’s a great journey.’”
His commitment has never been questioned. His life has been about planning, looking forward and striving for his goals, but the 29-year-old has, at times, also been anchored to them. It is a pressure that Struff feels daily. “Whenever I step into a tournament or a season, I set up goals and aims,” says the German. “I think life without aims is very boring, you always have to push yourself and go for it. You may not always achieve them, but you can work towards them. If you’re aiming low, you’re not being true to yourself. I know what I want to do and put pressure on myself sometimes.”
Three years later than he had hoped, Struff would move into the Top 100 for the first time in June 2016, in large part due to working with Carsten Arriens, his coach, and fitness trainer, Uwe Liedtke. “When I switched to Carsten in the summer of 2015, I developed as a person and my game grew. I would have loved to have gotten to the Top 100 earlier, but I’m not one of the guys that has so much talent, I had to work harder. My connection to the net, my approach game, my serve went much better and my physical improvements helped me to get into the Top 100. When I beat my first top player, Stan Wawrinka, in Paris [at the Rolex Paris Masters] later in 2016, it gave me so much confidence. It was a very important win for me, to share a court with the best players, having admired them for so many years, watching TV. You’re close to beating them, then you beat them and it feels amazing.”
Last summer, Struff came within one victory of a long-held goal: breaking into the Top 30. He didn’t make it, losing to Mikhail Kukushkin at The Championships, Wimbledon, but Struff remains pragmatic. “Tennis is a sport where you lose almost every week, but you have to realise you can play well and still lose,” says Struff, who grew up on clay. “It’s very tough to maintain confidence and focus. We need to be happy for what we’ve achieved, but always push for more. I had my best year last year, but I like to set high aims. The worst thing is to set your goals too low, achieve them and think you’ve done okay. If you don’t reach your goal, but try, that’s okay.
“I started later than most and I wasn’t good enough at the beginning, so I worked step-by-step and fought hard for everything. I am happy that I have built up my game and gained experience every time. I am getting better on serve, my net game and playing more doubles. I feel that my groundstrokes are getting more safe and solid, and I’m pretty happy with everything.”
Struff, who beat five Top 10 players last season, took a break with his family in Cape Town prior to starting 2020 by representing Germany at the inaugural ATP Cup. “It was very nice, a great event,” says the World No. 34. “It was great to start the year with a team competition, your team-mates with you, fighting for the country and each other.” So far Struff has gone 7-5 this year – including victories over Felix Auger-Aliassime and Roberto Bautista Agut – hit 99 aces in total and won 84 per cent of his service games according to Infosys Scores & Stats.
Arriens told ATPTour.com, “Before he was just following, not asking. Now it’s, ‘Why do we do this exercise, and what is it for? We should do it this way.’” Struff gives his input on match game plans as well. “Maybe we should do 1, 2 and 4 and not 3,” Arriens said. “When it’s clear, he’s coming back to it all the time. If he’s losing [the plan] for a game or two, he’s coming back to it.” The plan is working: come forward as often as possible, stay out of the corners, and keep the points short. Struff lets his emotions and the crowd help him as well. “I’m so much better now,” says Struff. “I feel like I’m getting better at covering the court. It makes it a lot of fun.”
When asked what he’d like his legacy to be, Struff admitted, when it’s time to stop, “I’d like to be remembered as a good person, a hard fighter and as a player, but most important is that you stay true to yourself and you gave everything to it. It would be a dream to be remembered for my playing career. It’s very important from being a little child to fighting for every point on court, that I tried my best every game and I enjoyed it. It’s most important.”