Maximilian, you were born in Nuremberg and have gone on to become a professional tennis player - just how did you end up a TSG Hoffenheim fan?
''That's a good question, and one I've often been asked, especially by my friends. I've been a fan of Hoffenheim since the season they reached the Bundesliga, and since then my relation to the club has only grown more intense. Back in my youth, I would say my footballing loyalties actually lay with Nuremberg, but it was always a little bit muddled given that my dad is a big Bayern fan and a lot of my friends are supporters of ''Der Club'' (1. FC Nuremberg). All in all, I could never really say that either of these clubs roused my passions all that much. So when I saw the brilliant football TSG were playing back then, it just felt natural to become a TSG Hoffenheim fan.''
Did you take a bit of stick back in the day because of your choice of team?
''A lot of people I know find it strange that a Bavarian wouldn't support a club from his local region - there are a lot to choose from after all, especially when you consider the second tier. Sure I've had to put up with a bit of banter, but as a fan you just have to learn to power through, you have to be able to take it. In any case, the club's success over the past few years has meant I've had plenty of ammunition to hit back with. (laughs)''
As a tennis player, you have to travel around a lot - have you ever had the chance to catch a TSG match live in the stadium?
''With all the tournaments and matches I have to play it isn't all that easy, but I've managed to make it to a few away matches in Bavaria. Last season I finally managed to make it to Sinsheim for the match against Dortmund - understandably enough I wanted to catch a real standout fixture. It was a brilliant match in the end, with a great atmosphere in the stadium - even after the final whistle. It was a fantastic day and a stunning victory for TSG which secured qualification for the group stage of the Champions League. I was absolutely over the moon to be there.''
''I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan''
How do you follow TSG matches when you're not in Germany? You often tend to be in a completely different time zone...
''It's often not all that easy, but I'm creative about it. A few times now I've rescheduled a training session, perhaps started a bit earlier than usual, just so I can watch the TSG game live. I'm a real dyed-in-the-wool fan these days, I follow the club really intensively and I try to take in as much as I possibly can.''
After tennis, football is your secondary sporting passion. Did you used to play for a club?
''When I was a young boy I did, but then I gave it up when I was eleven or twelve years old. I was so successful in tennis and after a while it's just not possible to keep doing both. But there are a lot of kickabouts that take place in the professional tennis circuit, especially when warming up. You have to have a bit of skill on the ball otherwise you'll be on the receiving end of banter from certain players out there.''
Do you have a favourite player at TSG?
''At the moment it's got to be Nadiem Amiri, he's been a real favourite of mine over the past few years. I like his style of play, even though I'm probably more of a Pavel Kadeřábek-type player: covers a lot of ground, likes to get forward, but doesn't offer much in the way of shots on goal. (laughs).''
TSG isn't your only tie to the region - you also play in the tennis Bundesliga for Grün-Weiß Mannheim. Was it just by chance you ended up there, or did you make a conscious choice to move closer to TSG?
''It's definitely a bonus getting to spend so much time in the vicinity, but the decision was taken entirely independently of TSG. Mannheim has a brilliant team, plus all the players are German speaking and the atmosphere in the dressing room is fantastic. We have a lot of fun as a team, we do a lot of things together and, as winning the German championship title last year shows, we have a lot of success. Everything just comes together perfectly. I've also been really impressed by the manner in which all the sports clubs here in the region pull together - we got a congratulations video sent to us from a variety of teams in the Rhine-Neckar area. I thought that was a brilliant gesture.''
''I'm always happy to be here in the region''
As a professional on the ATP tour, what does winning the German Championship mean to you?
''This title is really important to all of us German players. I'd never won it before, so that made it all the more fantastic to win it in my first year with Mannheim. Unfortunately I couldn't join in the celebrations on the last day of the season because I was out on the ATP tour. That was a shame, but maybe we'll manage to win it again this year and my timings will work out a bit better. It's something I'm fully committed to and I really enjoy the great atmosphere, but of course my main preoccupation is the ATP tour. Nonetheless I'm always happy to be at Grün-Weiß and here in the region.''
The French Open gets underway on 26 May. In last year's edition you managed to make it to the round of 16, where you ultimately went out against Rafael Nadal on centre court, a.k.a. the legendary Court Philippe Chatrier. How far can you go this time round?
''That was the biggest success of my career so far. For a player like me, a match like that arguably represents the greatest challenge you can ever face in the sport: on clay in centre court at Roland Garros against Nadal, the greatest clay court player in history, an eleven-time French Open champion - it doesn't get any harder than that. I was really nervous to begin with, but I managed to get to grips with the occasion in the end. I wasn't quite able to win a set - the match ended 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 to Nadal - but I definitely felt I could have. I got a sense of what makes the absolute top players stand out, and that's something that will help me grow. It was a fantastic occasion and a brilliant experience which I can take an awful lot from.''
Has the pressure now grown given your success over the past year?
''I'm a very good clay court player. My progress to the last 16 last year meant I gained a lot of points in the world rankings, which I'll now have to defend. So I'd say it's the most important tournament of the year for me. My preparation has to be perfect. I'm going to do all I can to repeat the success of last year.''
You're currently placed 110th in the world rankings and your all-time best ranking is 45th. What's life like for a tennis player at this level? How important is every single tournament?
''For players placed where I am in the rankings, the Grand Slam events are obviously the most lucrative. Performing well in these tournaments is particularly important. Life as a tennis player is excellent, but when planning the year and looking to earn winnings, a lot hinges on the Grand Slams. The top 100 or 150 players are the ones who can really earn money in this sport. It's true that winnings have gone up in the last few years, but as a player you have to pay for your coach as well as other associated costs such as travel fees.''
''I just concentrate on my game''
Your matches aren't just about sporting success; economic considerations also come in to play, especially at the Grand Slams. As if that weren't enough pressure, you're entirely on your own out there, without any teammates to help you out. How important is mental strength?
''It's obviously really different to football, where the people around you can come to your rescue. What I try not to do is get caught up in it all - instead I just aim to take it point by point. The longer a match goes on, the more the tension increases. I don't think about what I might stand to win or lose with regards to world ranking points or tournament winnings; I just concentrate on my own game - even though it isn't always that easy to do so.''
TSG are trailblazers in the field of mental preparation. Where do you stand on this aspect of sport?
''It's an important consideration for all athletes, but particularly those in individual sports. I don't actually have a specialist psychology coach at the moment, but I have a lot of conversations with my coaching staff about specific situations and how best to approach them. Working on this aspect of things can really improve your game. What TSG offers its players is very impressive. I'd love to come and have a look at it all.''
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