How to make it big in tennis….the toughest challenge in world sport?

Is tennis the hardest sport to crack? Kevin Palmer talks to an up-and-coming star to find out.

It would be easy to believe you have made it when you are sharing the Wimbledon dressing rooms with the great Roger Federer, yet rising Irish tennis star Simon Carr appreciates his rise to the top of tennis will be long and arduous.

On the back of a year that saw him reach the last-16 of the US Open junior event and piece together a run that saw him reach the semi-finals of the AIG Irish Open, 18-year-old Carr is now set to make a leap into the unknown as he attempts to launch his career on the senior professional circuit.

Funding his own travel is just one of the challenges for a young Dubliner who appreciates he may never reach the promised land of the world’s top 50, but he has told Tennis365 that he will cling onto his dream for as long as it remains realistic.

“It is a tough world I am in as only 100 players make a genuine profit out of this every year and the rest are struggling to fund themselves, but I feel I have the mental strength to make this happen,” begins Carr, who was given his maiden call-up to Ireland’s Davis Cup squad for their tie in Denmark earlier this month.

“I would say this is one of the most difficult sports to get to the top in for a number of reasons. It’s in individual event and there are no team-mates around to help if you are having a bad day and there are a lot of great players with the same targets as me. The depth in men’s tennis is huge, but this is the challenge I have wanted to take on for a long time now.

“At the end of the day, your destiny is in your own hands depending on how professional you will be and whether you have the commitment to make it to the ATP Tour, where the rewards can be fantastic.

“A lot of players get stuck in Futures events and the aim is to get out of there as quickly as possible, move on to Challenger Tour and then the ATP Tour for real. If you are not professional at that lower level, you will not get to where you want to be, but I feel I can do this.”

Carr may be helped by the introduction of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) transition tour in 2019, with tennis organisers hoping their new plans will ‘provide a more effective pathway linking the ITF Junior Circuit and the senior professional game’.

“The creation of the transition tour is based on ITF research that shows that while over 14,000 players compete each year in professional tournaments, only around 350 men and 250 women break even financially without consideration of coaching costs,” declared the ITF as they announced their new initiative.

“A large number of junior players are competing on the professional circuit but the transition to the Top 100 is taking longer. The transition tour will be staged within a more localised circuit structure that reduces costs for players and tournament organisers. This will also increase opportunities for players from more countries to join the pathway and be supported in their transition to professional tennis.”

These events will be a third tier of tennis competition around the world, behind the ATP Tour and Challenger events that the top players compete on, with Carr among those prepared for the challenges that lie ahead in 2018.

His time in the professional ranks will not start with glamour and bright lights. There will be minimal media coverage of Carr’s efforts to hit the big time, prize money will be limited, crowds will be sparse and yet this is the only route to the golden stages of a game laden with lavish riches for the few who make it to the summit.

Failure now certain to end Carr’s hopes of making it on the game’s more salubrious stages, yet optimism and defiance resonated in his every work as the son of former Dublin Gaelic footballer and manager Tommy Carr spoke to Tennis365.

“It could be a lonely existence next year,” says Carr, who is starting his professional career at No.922 on the ATP rankings. “If you are in a far flung corner of the world on your own in not a great hotel and you have no wi-fi, it would test your resolve to carry on, but I have no doubts that this is what I want to devote my life to.

“You tend to end up packing your bags on your own and heading to airports on your own, paying for flexi-tickets as you don’t know how long you will be in the tournament for and up to now there has not been much prize money coming in.

“You pay for all these trips at this stage, the coaching and everything else that goes into it, and you hope the rewards will be produced at a later date, but there are no guarantees.”
Simon’s father Tommy may have hoping his boy would follow in his footsteps and plough his sporting ambitions into GAA, yet his boy believes the upbringing he had in a sporting family is serving him well now.

“My dad is very knowledgeable to what is required to get at the top of a sport as he did that himself,” he continues.

“I took up Gaelic football at the age of six and had a go at making it in that sport, but I have a real passion for tennis and Dad has been a big support to me.

“He is also a strength and conditioning trainer so he helps me out a bit in that aspect and it’s great to have someone in my corner who appreciates what is needed to excel in sport. He doesn’t know everything about tennis, but he gives me advice when he can and has been great to me, along with my Mum.”

Carr’s exploits at the US Open and his appearance in the junior doubles event at Wimbledon were stand-out moments of his final year as a graduate of the sport, with Federer’s levels of excellence over the last 12 months highlighting the mountain Carr has in front of him as he looks to scale the heights in the professional ranks of the sport.

“I watched Federer on Centre Court at Wimbledon last year and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. He has just got everything cracked in tennis. He has it all worked out,” he adds.

“Then I saw him in the dressing room and you sit up and pinch yourself that it’s him. We are not allowed to ask for photos, even if you are tempted, but you know when the big guys walk into the room with you.

“Just being around these stars of he game at the Grand Slam events is a great experience for the junior players and you appreciate what is required to get anywhere near the levels they are at.

“I’m ready for what is coming next, but I know I have a long way to go and an tough rough ahead, but I’m looking forward to it. I believe I can make it.”

The odds may be stacked against Carr in his mission to become Ireland’s first big tennis superstar, but he is embracing the challenge with the attitude of a champion.

By Kevin Palmer