“I’m not going there to lose”: Exclusive Q&A with Mark Lajal, Alcaraz’s first-round opponent at Wimbledon

Lajal is feeling more and more confident on grass, and looks forward to giving his all against Alcaraz on Monday

Mark Lajal Wimbledon 2024 © Mouratoglou Academy

Estonian Mark Lajal, ranked No 269 in the world, has navigated his way through qualifying at Wimbledon and will play defending champion Carlos Alcaraz in the first round on Monday. Ahead of the match, Tennis Majors sat down with Lajal to hear how he’s feeling about his Wimbledon debut.

In 24 hours, you’ll be on the Centre Court of Wimbledon. How are you feeling?

Mark Lajal: Right now I’m feeling quite OK. But yesterday I was becoming pretty stressed. It was a little overwhelming. But as time goes on and it gets closer, I’m beginning to be ready.

I was on Centre Court a couple days ago, and I’m going to go this afternoon as well to kind of feel the emotion. There’s only so much I can be ready for. I can only be there and see what happens.

Have you had an experience on the Centre Court before?

Mark Lajal: No, never like this.

Where were you during the draw?

Mark Lajal: Basically we were in a car, we were driving to the main site. My coach was watching the draw live. They pull out Carlos – he was already in draw – they pull out the player who was going to play against him, they say, ‘122, Mark Lajal’ and we all started screaming! I’m like, ‘There’s no chance I’m playing Alcaraz in Wimbledon!’

In the beginning I didn’t even really understand. But then my friend said, ‘But wait, he’s defending champion, so you going to be starting first on Centre Court.’ I was like, ‘Oh my, that is crazy.’ So I was quite happy.

Is this good? Is this what you dream about when you start tennis?

Mark Lajal: It’s very good. Basically everyone dreams of playing on Centre Court Wimbledon, I certainly dreamed about it. Having a chance to do it in my first ever match at Wimbledon is quite incredible.

Mark Lajal Wimbledon 2024
© Mouratoglou Academy

You’re used to playing against these kind of high level players aren’t you, due to your experience at Mouratoglou Academy?

Mark Lajal: Yes. In the Mouratoglou Academy I’ve played quite a lot with high level players. Lately I’ve been playing a lot with Norrie, Dimitrov, Popyrin, Medvedev, just to name a few. Last year I played quite a lot with Ugo Humbert too. So yes, quite a lot of high level players.

Does that help?

Mark Lajal: For sure. In general – not even just for a match like this – but in general, it helps you improve, to feel the level. For sure, I’m going to be more ready for a match like this.

What was your experience on grass before this season?

Mark Lajal: Ah, not too much! I played juniors, junior Wimbledon, three years ago. Other than that, nothing really. I played two tournaments before on grass before Wimbledon. Two Challengers. They didn’t go well, I was like, ‘I don’t know why I came to grass. I don’t really like it too much.’ Then I did a week of practice and I started liking it a lot. And then here I am.

How did grass click for you?

Mark Lajal: I don’t know, just practice. Grass takes time. It’s very different, just have to have hours on it. I did quite a lot of hours that week. Every minute that passed I started to feel better.

Wimbledon is your first Grand Slam main draw and first time passing qualifying. Can you tell us what happened?

Mark Lajal: It was a week of many firsts. I got my first Grand Slam win, because I had lost three times before in the first round of qualifying before this. I was quite happy about that. But then I though, ‘I’ve won the first match, but it’s not over.’

Then I won the second match and I’m happy, but I have a big match coming up to qualify. Then I qualify, and I’m happy, but still, it’s not over. The tournament is actually just starting. So I was very pleased, but at the same time, I was ready for what’s coming.

The global tennis audience will discover you tomorrow. How would you like them to perceive you, what would you like them to know?

Mark Lajal: It’s a tough question to answer, I never know what to say. You’re going to see my authentic self; I’m not trying to be someone else, it’s just who I am. I think that’s one of the things to know about me. Everything else, you will find out.

What was one of the funniest things about yesterday, because you’re surrounded by more attention than usual?

Mark Lajal: Yeah for sure, it’s been different. There’s a lot of people, a lot of attention from the media, especially in Estonia. A lot of people are texting me, it’s quite nice.

The funniest was when the draw came out, honestly. That was the funniest part. It was just everyone screaming. It wasn’t even like, ‘Wow!’, it was just full on screaming. It was just a surreal moment, that was the funniest part.

After that, I’ve been practising getting ready. It’s been quite stressful at times, because I don’t think I still understood what I’m going to do. But I’ve been getting some advice, and I’m feeling good.

Mark Lajal Wimbledon 2024
© Mouratoglou Academy

Under what condition would this match be a success for you?

Mark Lajal: Honestly, a success for me is stepping on the court. But I would say, I don’t want to go there to lose. I’m not going to go there to lose. I’m going to go there to fight, to give my best. You never know what can happen. 

Carlos is an amazing player, he’s one of the best in the world. It’s going to be a big challenge, a big, big challenge. But, I’m ready for it. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect, since I’ve never been on a court this big before, I’ve never played against a player this big before. There’s a lot of firsts, but I’m going to do what I can.

More generally, how do you rate your season so far? How does this Wimbledon rank?

Mark Lajal: It hasn’t been a great season so far. Quite a few injuries, quite a few difficulties, haven’t been playing so great. Honestly, qualifying for Wimbledon and playing this match has been really, really good, given me a lot of confidence.

It’s like a cherry on top a little bit. My season has started getting better since April. But you know, still, there’s a long, long season ahead of us. It’s only halfway. So it’s good to be doing this, but it’s only the beginning for the rest of the season.

Now for the question everyone wants to know: what is the name of this haircut?

Mark Lajal: I don’t know. A lot of people call it the palm tree, a lot of people call it the pineapple. I had Lloyd Harris tell me it’s the sunflower. There’s many names, you can call it what you want. 

A funny story, this hair style, I used to wear it when I was like 14 years old. But then I started playing with a hat, so since 14 I’ve never played with hair like this. But then I was practising for Wimbledon, and I had a really bad sun tan [on my forehead] from playing like this, I was like, ‘I hate it. I want to get rid of it.’ 

So I put my hair up like this, and thought, ‘You know what, I kind of like it.’ Then Wimbledon came, and I told myself, ‘You know what, it’s Wimbledon. If there’s any place in the world to be something different, it’s Wimbledon. I’m going to play like this.’

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