***Nikolai Haessig is 20 years old born in 100 Mile House, BC. Nikolai grew up in Williams Lake, BC until the age of 9 before moving with his family to Vancouver. Nikolai’s family consists of his father; Marco Haessig, mother; Brigitte Elmer and also a 22 year-old brother Yvon who plays college tennis in South Carolina. Nikolai plays left-handed with a two-handed backhand, and is considered an aggressive baseliner.***
Pierre Lamarche catches up with Nikolai in Saskatoon.
PL: How was your time at the NTC in Montreal?
NH: At the time, NTC was the best thing that could have happened to me. Living in Vancouver and with my parents not having a lot of money I feel like my options to play tennis at a high level internationally were pretty limited. NTC gave me the opportunity to train with the best players in the country and to gain a lot of experience by traveling to play international tournaments. I improved so much in my first two years at NTC and I truly believe that I wouldn’t be the player I am today if I hadn’t had the opportunity to train in Montreal.
PL: What happened at the end?
NH:At the end of my second year at NTC I had some meetings with my coaches and it was being decided whether I would be invited for a third year. In the end I did get invited again, and I was told a lot of it had to do with my attitude and that they felt I was a good role model for the younger players. At that time I was 17 and I feel like my game was at a point where I needed more than just group training to keep improving. Unfortunately I felt like I was doing too much just hitting instead of maybe training 1 on 1 with a coach and really trying to learn to understand my game and exactly how I need to play to win matches. I think that this showed in my results. I ended my ITF junior career on a 7 match losing streak, often feeling completely lost and unsure what to do on court.
PL: Why did you not keep on having support when you transitioned to the pros?
NH: I got the feeling that Tennis Canada wanted me to go on to play college tennis so that I could have 4 years to develop not only my tennis but also develop physically. At the time, I also did not meet the Tennis Canada requirements in terms of ATP or ITF ranking to continue receiving financial support. I was offered to be able to continue training in Montreal and using the facilities but I would sort of be looking out for myself.
PL: What did you and your family decide to do, as I know you had a lot of US universities interested in you?
NH: I always wanted to play professional tennis and for me playing college tennis was never really something that I wanted to do. I talked a lot with my parents, especially with my Dad, about what my options would be. We decided that financially it would make the most sense for me to go to train in Switzerland. My parents are Swiss and my dad has a really close friend that runs an academy over there, and we were able to arrange for me to start training there. Switzerland also gave me a lot more options to play tournaments within driving distance and thus not always having the huge costs of flying all over the place. In January of 2011 I moved to Switzerland with my Dad.
PL: How have the last two years been like?
NH: The last two years have been really amazing for me. When I started in Switzerland I made a 3 year plan to reach the top 300 in the ATP rankings. 3 years is also how long all my private sponsors agreed to help me financially. The things I really started to focus on in my training are being able to understand my game and knowing how I need to play to win matches. Also I intentionally spent almost my entire summers training and playing tournaments on clay in Europe. This is because I wanted to improve my game for the future and get it to a level where I can compete and win at tough tournaments. In the last two years I feel like I have again improved a great deal. The biggest things are that I think I have matured a lot as a player and now I am finally starting to be at a point where I can go on court for a match and know exactly what I need to do and how I need to play to win.
PL: What are your dreams for your tennis and how will you proceed to achieve these?
NH: My dream is to one day be able to make a living playing tennis and to make it into the top 100. These last few years on the tour have made me realize how tough it really is to make it that far. At the end of this year my 3 year plan will be over and at that point I will have to make some decisions about what I will do. At this point I really don’t know yet what my plans will be. I am giving it my all for the rest of this year and then at the end of the year I’ll see where I am with my ranking, what my financial possibilities are, and whether I even want to continue playing professional tennis.