Surging towards the top 20 and in the best form of his career, 2023 was going brilliantly for Jan-Lennard Struff until he lunged for a volley in Bordeaux shortly before Roland Garros. A week earlier the German had come from qualifying to reach his first Masters final when beaten by dual-grand slam champion Carlos Alcaraz in three sets in a high-quality decider. This followed a string of strong Masters efforts where, after starting in qualifying, he won main draw matches at Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo in the first half of the year.
That saw the 33-year-old’s Pepperstone ATP Tour Ranking jump from 150 at the start of 2023 to a career-high 21 leading into his preferred stint of the season.
But then Struff, who plays Yoshihito Nishioka in a quarterfinal of the Huafa Properties Zhuhai Championships on Sunday, felt a sharp pain during an ATP Challenger in Bordeaux.
“I thought, ‘Mmmm, that is a strange feeling’, but I finished the match with no problems. And then, in the evening, I felt more of a problem,” he said.
“When I woke up in the morning, I could not tie up my shoe laces, because I could not reach my shoes, so that was very tough.”
Struff opted to push on towards Roland Garros, where he lost in five sets to Jiri Lehecka, and then performed well in Stuttgart when beaten in a thrilling final by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But competing in Halle a week later, the pain which had come and gone in the month prior flared again, prompting the Davis Cup representative to seek further advice.
“During the week, I was feeling more pain in doubles, and then after that I saw a doctor, thinking I would get an injection for Wimbledon. But he said, ‘No chance. You will ruin it’,” Struff said.
He said missing Wimbledon and the US Open, as well as Masters series tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati, was disappointing because he felt capable of excelling in them. “Obviously it was a great year so far. I couldn’t have expected this, going this fast up to the top 30 from outside the top 150. It was crazy how fast it went. It was an amazing year,” he said.
“(So) it was very hard to accept. I had had a good run and I had a feeling in these tournaments that I could play good tennis, because of the faster conditions.
“Wimbledon and the US Open, it was quite tough to see, to be seeded twice and then be out. Losing the opportunities was tough. It was frustrating.”
The No.23 spent more time than expected on the sidelines as a result of the hip problem but performed well in his first match back in Zhuhai when defeating Cristian Garin 6-3 1-6 6-4.
Similarly to fellow Zhuhai Championships contender Karen Khachanov, who also missed Roland Garros and Wimbledon with injury, Struff tried to make the most of a testing situation. The right-hander did not pick up a racquet for seven weeks while completing rehabilitation but said there was also a silver lining to his time away from the circuit.
He went on a holiday with his sons and his girlfriend, caught up with his parents, headed to soccer games and drank plenty of “good coffees”.
“The only problem was, when you want to play with your kids, you want to run and stuff, but I was not able to. Carrying them was not great. It was not that easy,” he said.
“But it was great to have time with them, which was fortunate, because now that I am travelling for the next three weeks in China, I won’t have much time with them.
“So it was bad but, at the same time, it was good to see the family.”
Struff and Nishioka have split their two ATP Tour matches in Cologne in 2020 and Paris in 2019 and the Zhuhai Championships 3rd seed is expecting a testing encounter.
“He is a tough opponent. He has very good hands (and) good skills. Good running. He is a very, very good player, so it is going to be a difficult match,” Struff said.