(Written late 2012)
I’m very lucky..
I discovered a passion in my life at a very young age and it all started down in my local tennis club, Castleknock L.T.C.
My mom brought me down one day for a game and I specifically remember one occasion where I left the courts crying because we had no more time left. I knew there and then that tennis was for me. I was obsessed with the game then and for the most part I still am now! 🙂
Things have changed over the years and I’ve encountered obstacles along the way but that genuine, burning desire to play the game has never left my soul. Up until the age of 13, I used to spend almost everyday down in the tennis club-practicing against the wall when no one was around, taking part in private/group coaching in the torrential rain and generally just getting involved in whatever was going on down there. I used to play round-robins throughout the year and enter the Spring and Summer Championships. Looking back at it now, those tournaments at the time meant the world to me and I can still vividly remember playing the Under 1o Final in the Club Championships!
Around the age of 13, I met a extremely influential person in my life by the name of Larry Jurovich. Larry was my mentor and my coach from 13 to 17 and really made a big difference in improving my game, my character and my mind. He ran a tennis academy down in Westwood Clontarf where a lot of juniors took part including James Cluskey who is still playing on the professional tour today. We used to spend up to 30 hours a week training before and after school in Westwood and it was really a fantastic programme we had going. I have very fond memories of my time training with Larry and we still keep in regular contact to this day.
At 17, I decided to move a tennis academy in Barcelona to pursue my career and left Belvedere College when I was in 5th year. It was a big move to make, especially because I went over alone and didn’t really know what to expect. I went hell for leather in my training in Barcelona and ended up sustaining two stress fractures in my hand, one after the other. I would spend hours and hours hitting balls on the red clay and my body just wasn’t used to the heavy workload, it broke down. On top of that, I felt the nutrition was quite poor at the academy and I didn’t rest well enough. It resulted in being injured for 16-17 months and it really was a painful time in my life. I was even held at knife point outside the academy one night and robbed of all my money, something was telling me not to stay there! Luckily for me though, I still spent those months training physically- developing my body and improving anyway I could. I had no intention of giving up the game I loved despite the extremely long time away from the court.
At the time, College Tennis in the U.S. was my best option as it would give me a chance to get back in the swings of things with my tennis. I knew I wasn’t ready to play on the tour after such a long period away from the game and I also knew that there were a lot of players choosing the college route prior to playing pro. At 19 years old I was in a situation where I had no coach, no money and no real guidance about what to do next. I was completely unsure of things and had no idea how the college system in the U.S. worked, about where to go and about how scholarships worked. What I did know though was that it was a critical period of my life/career.
Because I hadn’t played a tournament in almost 2 years, I had no solid results to show to the college coaches in America. As far as they were concerned, I was just an average tennis player from Ireland looking for a full scholarship to their University. Despite being one of the best junior players in Ireland 2 years before, they weren’t interested and there was no chance I’d be getting a full scholarship! No Way! It felt horrible to spend 17 months suffering from a frustrating bone injury only to be confronted with another obstacle. It was a distressing time for me as I knew that if I went to college in Ireland, the chances of playing to a high level in the pros were pretty much impossible.
A friend of mine who had already played college tennis in the U.S. put in a good word for me at the College he had already played at (North Carolina State University). He assured the head coach that I would be a good addition to the team and despite my time away from the court, I had the talent and commitment to come back strong. I didn’t have too many options about where I wanted to play and North Carolina State became my only option. I was lucky enough to have been given the chance to play there but at the same time, I knew it wasn’t the very best place for my tennis development. It was fantastic for school, friends and general college life but not for making me the best tennis player I could be. NC State were ranked in the 50’s in the country at the time and had a group of guys who were all good players but no one I felt would be taking names on the pro tour. The players who would be doing damage on the pro tour after college were mostly part of teams in the top 10 in the country.
I could actually write a book on my experiences in college but I’ll have to summarize it. I spent a total of 3 semesters in College (2 Spring Semesters ’07 ’08 and one Fall Semester ’06). I helped the team in 2007 achieve their best result in the school’s history (NCAA Quarter Finals) and I played number one on the team throughout 2008, was team MVP and ended the year inside the singles top 50. It may sound like I had a fantastic time in college but there were a lot of very tough moments. A lot of injuries, stress and odd team dynamics are what stick out from my college experience there but in saying that too, I learned a huge amount about myself and met amazing friends who I still keep in contact with today. This is in no way suggesting that playing college tennis in the U.S. is a bad option, instead it’s an opportunity for me to stress the importance of guidance and advice that needs to be shared with teenagers prior to college.
Believe me, if I was 19 again I would still go to college in the U.S. albeit I would think twice about where I wanted to go and who I knew I would be surrounding myself with. It is SO important to have the right people around you and at the end of the day, you want to feel comfortable with the college you choose.
After completing 3 semesters in college, I received a phone call from someone letting my know I had received some sponsorship to play on the tour. I said yes immediately, I have no regrets about leaving college early and am very happy I started playing on the tour in 2008.
I have been on the tour since July 2008 and have been representing Ireland in Davis Cup since March 2009. I have a career high-ranking of #323 (April ’12) in singles and have spent the majority of my time since turning pro competing in Futures and Challenger Tour events worldwide. I spend anywhere between 25 and 35 weeks a year traveling to different tournaments all around the world, living out of my suitcase and competing against other foreign players for vital ATP Points to improve my ranking in order to progress to the higher levels of the ATP Tour. (I will explain the ATP points and ranking system later in this blog so that you can get a proper idea of what it’s all about). I have spent a huge amount of time on the tour on my own- living in hotel rooms, airports, trains and taxis but I am currently trying to spend more time with a coach on the road.
I’m at a stage now in my career where I am approaching my 5th year on the tour and I feel I have a wealth of experience from the past 4 years to share with anyone who is interested about professional tennis. Most people just see it on T.V. and have a general idea of what it’s like but I’m here to give you a behind the scenes account of what really goes on and what’s it’s really about.