How Chris Eubanks became the surprise hope for the US men at Wimbledon

D’Arcy MaineESPN.comJul 11, 2023, 09:21 AM ET10 minutes of reading

Christopher Eubanks upsets Stefanos Tsitsipas in 5-set thriller

America’s Christopher Eubanks stun Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets to advance to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.

Christopher Eubanks stood at the microphone on Court No. 2 as 4,000 spectators crammed into the stands watched.

“You’ve just beaten your first top-5 player, you’re making your debut here at Wimbledon and now you’re in your first ever Grand Slam quarter-final,” Jenny Drummond, the on-court reporter, told Eubanks before the stadium erupted into applause. “Are you living your best life right now?”

Eubanks didn’t hesitate. “I feel like I’m living a dream right now,” he said.

At the start of the grass season last month, Eubanks had never won an ATP title, had never played in the main draw at Wimbledon and had never gone past the second round at a major. In fact, Eubanks didn’t even like playing on the surface.

Now, after a dramatic five-set victory over No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, Eubanks is in the quarterfinals at the All England Club.

It is so unexpected, even for him, that he has extended his hotel reservation three times during his stay.

Eubanks, 27, is now the 13th man in the Open Era to reach the last eight in his main draw debut at Wimbledon, and the first American man to do so since 1984. He is also the third black American man to do so round and joined Arthur Ashe and MaliVai Washington on what would have been Ashe’s 80th birthday.

On June 26, Eubanks was ranked No. 77 in the world, just a few spots shy of his career-high mark. Now he is No. 43, and is expected to rise to at least No. 31 in next week’s rankings.

“Everything from realizing I have two credentials at Wimbledon for the rest of my life [as part of Wimbledon’s ‘Last 8 Club‘], to checking my phone and seeing my name as an ESPN alert, to realizing how much I didn’t like grass at the beginning of the turf season, to now looking at where I’m at,” Eubanks said Monday night. “It’s been something. that you dream of. But I think for me, I didn’t really know if that dream would actually come true. I’m sitting here in it now, so it’s pretty cool.’

Eubanks wasn’t humble when he said he wasn’t sure his dreams in the sport would ever come true.

Unlike many of his peers, he was not a top-ranked junior player. He played a few events but none of the Slams and was largely unaffected during the college recruiting process. ultimately, thanks in part to his mentor Donald Young, an Atlanta native who was a top-100 ATP player at the time, Eubanks caught the attention of the coaching staff at Georgia Tech.

Head coach Kenny Thorne wasn’t sure whether to send his then-assistant coach Derek Schwandt (now head coach at Liberty) down to watch Eubanks play at a tournament in Mobile, Alabama. But when they drove down to Florida to watch one of the top recruits play, they thought about what Young had said about him and decided Schwandt should go to Alabama instead of giving Eubanks a look .

“Derek sent me a video of one of Chris’ first serves and the ball literally hit the fence in front of Derek and almost went through the fence,” Thorne told ESPN on Monday. “And it was so high on the fence that I was like, ‘Please tell me it was Chris. Please.” He says, ‘It’s him.’ I asked for more videos right away.

“Chris wasn’t ranked that high, but he got to the finals of that tournament. And then he was getting ready to play at one of the biggest national tournaments, so I went out to see him practice and right there said me, “We have to bring him in (for an unofficial recruiting visit) before he goes to this big tournament and everyone else sees how talented he is.” We saw right then what a special player and person he was.”

During his three seasons at Georgia Tech, Eubanks was twice named ACC Player of the Year and was a two-time All American. He turned pro prior to his senior season in 2017.

While an increasing number of players on both the ATP and WTA tours have competed collegiately, including Cameron Norrie, Jennifer Brady and Danielle Collins, it remains somewhat unconventional and success at the NCAA level does not always translate to the pros.

For most of Eubanks’ first five seasons, he played mostly lower-level Futures and Challengers events. He played in front of small crowds for little money and few placement points, a grind week in and week out.

He cracked the top 200 in 2018, but the milestone didn’t mean much. He still needed to receive a wild card, or to get through qualification, to play at the majors, and the rankings made it even more unlikely that he could play in ATP events. Prior to the start of the 2023 season, he had played in six Grand Slam events and only a handful of ATP tournaments. Disappointed with the state of her career, Eubanks began doing part-time commentary for the Tennis Channel.

“There were definitely some low moments,” Eubanks said last week. “I think part of the reason I even got to comment was because I had a real sit-down with my agent in 2021 and I said, ‘Listen, if I’m still 200 until next year and injuries haven’t played a part. part, I can do something else with my time.’ Like, it’s not that glamorous if you’re ranked around 200.”

But while he enjoyed his television work, he did not abandon his ambitions on the pitch.

Chris Eubanks won his first career ATP title in Mallorca at the end of June.Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

According to Martin Blackman, general manager of player development for the USTA, Eubanks knew he needed to make a change to get to the next level, and then took a risk and gambled on himself.

“About two and a half years ago, when he wasn’t in the top 100, he made the decision to hire a full-time coach. [Ruan Roelofse]”, Blackman said Monday. “A lot of times when guys aren’t broke in and aren’t making the big bucks, they don’t invest in themselves because money is tight, and there’s a trade-off — I invest in myself, whether it’s a trainer or strength and conditioning or physio and take a chance and maybe run out of money along the way? Or do I save it, but then I don’t do everything I need to do? And Chris has really gone all in and taken care of all the controllables on and off the field.”

That decision has made a difference.

Working with Roelofse, Eubanks has made subtle changes and improvements to his game, adding muscle to his lanky 6-foot-7 frame. “I know people say he’s skinny, but he’s huge for what he was in college,” Thorne said.

Eubanks won her first major main draw match at the US Open last year and has made steady progress since. There was a second-round appearance at the Australian Open in January and, in what was then the biggest breakthrough of his career, a quarter-final appearance at the Masters 1000-level Miami Open as a qualifier. The result brought him into the top 100 for the first time in his career.

He cried with emotion after securing the milestone position. “Out of everyone in the world who plays tennis at some point, for some week in the world, you were one of the top 100 tennis players in the world,” Eubanks said at the time. “In the world. Like there’s a lot of people who play tennis. A lot of people. And it’s like, I’m sitting here as one of the 100 best people to do it – one of the best players to do it it right now. It feels good.”

But it has been the grass season where he has had a tremendous rise. He famously reached out to four-time major champion Kim Clijsters for advice on how to play the “dumbest” surface via text while playing in the first grass tournament of the year at Surbiton, and she urged him to work on his footwork and Stay positive.

He didn’t win his next two tournaments, but he then took home his first ATP trophy in Mallorca and his momentum has yet to wane. No opponent or moment has so far seemed too big for Eubanks. He defeated British No. 1 player and 2022 semi-finalist Norrie in the second round in front of a lively crowd on Court No. 1 and made believers and fans out of many.

“The Norrie game was massive,” Blackman said. “To beat not only a Brit at Wimbledon on that court, but a great player who wanted more than anything to do well in front of that crowd. It showed a lot of character and was a real turning point.”

And, perhaps most impressively, there was no emotional hangover for Eubanks in his third-round fight the very next day. He needed three tiebreaks but managed to dispatch Christopher O’Connell in straight sets on Saturday. Against Tsitsipas on Monday, he thrived in the ever-increasing spotlight and held his nerve in a more than three-hour match.

Thorne streamed the match on his phone from the stands at a junior tournament. He moved inside to watch the fifth set on a bigger screen because he simply couldn’t focus on anything else anymore. He said everyone in the clubhouse cheered at the end. Blackman watched from the stands. Coco Gauff, a longtime friend, and her parents were also in the crowd to show their support, and Gauff proudly filmed her post-match interview.

“I think everyone, from other players to fans, recognizes his hard work and they recognize his joy,” Blackman said. “When he plays a good point, you will see the smile. And not only when he wins the point. Sometimes it will be a good point and he will lose the point, but you see the joy he has to be on the court and do what he loves to do. It’s contagious.”

Chris Eubanks stunned the field with upsets of No. 12 Cameron Norrie and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas.AP Photo/Aastair Grant

Eubanks is now riding a nine-fight winning streak, with his confidence growing with the fight. Monday marked the biggest win of his career, but that could change on Wednesday against No. 3 seed and 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev with a chance to reach the semifinals. Eubanks is not favored to win, but neither was he when he faced Norrie or Tsitsipas.

Whatever happens on Wednesday, he will leave London with his best major result, the biggest paycheck of his career totaling at least $437,852 and a new career-high ranking. And all this means a new degree of freedom he has never experienced as a professional tennis player. For most of the next year, he will be able to play in any tournament he wants thanks to his ranking and not have to worry about financing his career. He could even be seeded at the US Open, which would mean he wouldn’t face another top-32 player until at least the third round.

But more than anything, Eubanks has found a confidence over the past few weeks that he lacked before. “For a long time I questioned whether I was consistent enough to play at this level really consistently,” Eubanks said. “I knew I could come out in any game and maybe light it up, give some guys some trouble. I don’t know if I really believed I could put it together game after game after game against quality opponents.

“It’s something Coco has been telling me for a long time. Naomi [Osaka] even says the same thing. That’s kind of been the main thing to just reinforce and instill confidence, ‘Hey, you can play at this level, you just have to believe it.’ When I’m around them, to hear them talk about their faith, it’s kind of contagious… I think it’s slowly starting to rub off on me, where when I step foot on the field, ‘Hey, I can play at this level. I belongs to at this level.”

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