Player Features

Meet Yannick Hanfmann: From college to cheetahs to facing Novak Djokovic

Learn more about the 32-year-old German
May 22, 2024
Yannick Hanfmann has climbed as high as No. 45 in the PIF ATP Rankings.
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Yannick Hanfmann has climbed as high as No. 45 in the PIF ATP Rankings. By Andrew Eichenholz

When Yannick Hanfmann steps on court to begin his second-round match at the Geneva Open Wednesday, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will be across the net for the first time. It will be a new challenge, one of the toughest the German has faced on a tennis court. But it is also the type of moment he has dreamt about since he was a kid.

Hanfmann’s parents, Stephen and Karin, were amateur players who loved the sport. His sister Ini, two years older, also played tennis before turning to dancing and later choreography and creative direction. Their house was close to tennis courts, so as soon as Yannick was able to hold a racquet, his parents would take him to the club. He vividly remembers hitting against the wall.

“It was a lot of times, and I would always make up matches in my head. I would always be a certain player,” Hanfmann told “At a time it was [Boris] Becker, then it was [Pete] Sampras a little bit, then maybe it started to be a little bit [Juan Carlos] Ferrero, [Guillermo] Coria.”

Roland Garros was the tournament that was on his mind because Wimbledon was on paid television, which his family did not receive at the time. More than two decades later, the 32-year-old is an established ATP Tour professional competing against the best players in the world. On Wednesday, he will face a player in Djokovic who has won more majors (24) than Becker, Sampras and Ferrero combined (21). This is the type of opportunity he worked his whole life for.

Hanfmann has not followed the same path as those stars, though. The German was a typical kid who played multiple sports — specifically football and tennis — into his teens. One weekend he would go to a soccer tournament, then compete in a tennis tournament the next. Some weekends he would play both. Around the age of 15, he focused more on tennis. Beginning in the fall of 2011, Hanfmann moved across the globe to play college tennis at the University of Southern California. That was around the same time Djokovic first became the No. 1 player in the world.

“I wasn't one of those guys that was so good early that it was kind of clear to be a professional. But the dream was always there, so even though I went to college at USC, it was still always there,” Hanfmann recalled. “In my mind I was like yeah, maybe two years of college and then I’ll go [pro], but then I loved college so much.”

Watch Hanfmann vs. Murray Geneva Highlights

It was not the easiest transition, though. Hanfmann played No. 5 singles his freshman year on a loaded team that featured five future Top 200 players: Hanfmann, Steve Johnson, Emilio Gomez, Roberto Quiroz and Daniel Nguyen. But the toughest thing for the German was getting used to his new life in the United States.

“It's not an easy thing to do, to be in a completely new culture, a new environment, new language in a way. You have to figure out how to manage Los Angeles, you have to figure out how to manage tennis and studying. So a lot of nice things to learn, but it was tough,” Hanfmann said. “The first few weeks or months, I was walking around with eyes super big and trying to see and experience as much as I could.”

By his junior year he was his team’s No. 1 player and one of the best in all of college tennis. The German did not immediately surge to the top of the sport after graduating in 2015, though. He did not crack the Top 200 in the PIF ATP Rankings until 2017, when in Munich he reached the quarter-finals on his ATP Tour main draw debut.

Shortly thereafter Hanfmann advanced to his maiden tour-level final in Gstaad. In July 2018 he cracked the Top 100 for two weeks, but did not make his return to the elite group until September 2020.

“In tennis the tough thing is that there's always somewhere to go,” Hanfmann said. “There's always something else. That's what makes the sport also very challenging.”

Hanfmann has continued seeking ways to improve. After many years based in Munich, the German made a change that has paid dividends. Former doubles player Frank Moser suggested he consider working with Juan Pablo Brzezicki of Argentina, where he spent the past two offseasons.

“I think it's paying off. The Argentine passion for tennis and the knowledge of tennis, I think it's an incredible tennis nation. They have so many good players, so many good coaches,” Hanfmann said. “That showed me a lot of different perspectives on the sport and on coaching itself. I'm very happy that I took that path.”

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Since then Hanfmann has proven himself against the best players in the world. Last year alone he earned victories against Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul and Dominic Thiem. For those who watch him, there is plenty to know about Hanfmann outside of his game.

The 32-year-old was born with a hearing impairment. If a typical person’s hearing is 100 per cent, his is roughly 60 per cent.

“It depends on the frequency, on the tone of the noise. I was born with it, so I can't really relate to other people, what I'm missing out on,” Hanfmann said. “In school, I had a hearing device. I was supposed to wear it all the time. But me as a stubborn kid, I didn't like it so much. Now I actually have gotten around it again, I'm wearing it a little bit more. In tennis tournaments it is tough, because they're not so good to put in and out all the time.

“When I put on the hearing device, it's got so much more input that it can also make you really tired. So for example, if I go out for a movie. I like to wear it in a social setting where my friends, it's annoying to maybe always ask ‘What did you say?’ In general, in tennis, I don't really know. Maybe I would hear the ball a little bit differently. I tried to play tennis with the hearing device. It was really, really strange.”

Striking the ball sounded like shattered glass. Bouncing the ball on the court sounded differently too, and all the input became too tiresome. Without the device Hanfmann might not hear murmurs in the front row. But if a crowd is raucous, there is not much difference.

Hanfmann also has an affinity for animals and enjoys giving back to support them.

“I have passion for cheetahs. So the first few years on Tour, I gave a donation to a cheetah outreach centre in South Africa. The year after I think was orangutans in Malaysia,” Hanfmann said. “The past two years, I made a donation to one of my favourite podcasts that give to a few causes. And one of those was also an animal cause. I try to every year depending on how many points I make in ATP, I take it times two or times three, whatever it is, and then I just give the donation.

“I always was fascinated with these animals. Every time I see [cheetahs], I love them so much. I went to South Africa one time to see that centre and to be with the animals there.”

The German is also a big basketball fan who got to meet countryman Dirk Nowitzki, the NBA legend, at last year’s Australian Open. He loves seeing different countries and last offseason surfed in Costa Rica. There is plenty Hanfmann would like to do — go skiing, for example — but does not to avoid risk.

For now, Hanfmann is fully focused on his career. After defeating former World No. 1 Andy Murray in the Geneva first round, he will try to oust the current No. 1 in Djokovic.

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