Cluskey digging deep to make Wimbledon dream come true

first_imgBelief-wise I’d beaten a few guys and you’re thinking about getting to Wimbledon, but when I beat Petzchner and he’s won Wimbledon and the US Open, you know for sure you’re good enough.The next day Cluskey and Menendez-Maceiras lost the final in Istanbul in straight sets. Defeat cost them another €1,000 in prize money, a sum not to be sniffed at for the Dubliner who makes his living away from the glitz and glamour of the main tour, playing on the second-tier Challenger and Futures events.The run to that final was the continuation of a brilliant upturn in form in the second half of 2013. In July he won his maiden Challenger title, again in Istanbul; a fortnight later he won another in Guimares.It was a major breakthrough. Owen Casey and Conor Niland are the only Irish-born players to have won Challenger titles and now he stood alongside them.The wins propelled him up the rankings from 233rd at the start of the year to a career high of 145. Now 150th, he’s within reach of his childhood dream of playing at Wimbledon.Another big result or two would guarantee him a spot in the pre-tournament qualifiers in June. His form suggests it’s a realistic possibility but the finances say otherwise.In the past players inside the world top 250 were eligible for “international” grade funding under the carding scheme.But in the review which followed London 2012, the Irish Sports Council moved to decentralize the scheme. Now they continue to directly fund high-performance athletes in certain Olympic sports but in others, like tennis, the performance funds are passed on to the national governing body who then decide how best to allocate the money.For Cluskey and others like James McGee, the world number 213 who lost in the first qualifying round of the Australian Open this week, the €12,000 their ranking would previously have guaranteed them is now a lot more uncertain.Cluskey estimates that he received €13,500 in funding and sponsorship in 2013, in part from the Sports Council and Tennis Ireland and in part from other benefactors. But as he faces into the new year, he has no idea how much financial support he can expect. (Tennis Ireland are expected to meet later this month to decide on their 2014 grants.)He starts his season next week with two Futures tournaments in France before flying out to Belarus with the Irish Davis Cup team. A three-week swing through India will follow in February for Challengers in Chennai, Kolkata and New Delhi, the kind of the tournaments he needs to be playing in — and winning — to keep his ranking high.After that he’ll reassess and see if the accounts still balance, if the travel and accommodation expenses on one side offset against his funding and whatever prize money he manages to bring in.“I need to go all in. If I had money to play the full year, I’d love to be able to commit to the year and see where I am at the end of it. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself for these months which doesn’t help but I don’t really have many options at the same time.He’s determined to make the most of what he has got. When he’s not training, he holds coaching clinics with Niland to raise some extra cash. Next month he’s hoping to launch a Crowdfunding scheme, giving Irish tennis fans the opportunity to help a few euro at a time.He wouldn’t have even got this far without massive support: from Tennis Ireland; from his coaches Owen Casey and Conor Taylor; from his strength and conditioning coach John Connor; and from his family and friends.If 2014 is the best chance he will ever have to make his dream come true — and it may well be — Cluskey wants to make sure he has no regrets.“When kids come in at age seven or eight, they always aim to be top 100 in the world or to play Wimbledon or the Grand Slams. Then when you get to 18, or to where I am and you’re as close as any Irish person has been and you’re asking for a little bit of help, they feel they have to spend the money on the academy and on the kids.“I’m not saying I deserve a coach to travel with me or fifty grand or whatever, just some help and some support.“I don’t want to be negative because I love it,” he says, thinking aloud. “And I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.”Big names to attend grand opening of SBG’s new facility TURKEY NEVER FEATURED in James Cluskey’s dreams.It wasn’t thoughts of Istanbul that motivated him on those early mornings when he dragged himself out of bed before the sun came up, his parents waiting to ferry him to and from training sessions before school. When he was hitting winners in the park leagues in Swords, the dream was much bigger.He wanted tennis to take him to Melbourne, Flushing Meadows, and maybe some day the hallowed lawns of SW19 for the daddy of them all: Wimbledon.But 9-7 up in the match tie-breaker, Cluskey and doubles partner Adrian Menendez-Maceiras faced one of their biggest points yet.On the other side of the court, racket in hand, was a man who has tasted the Grand Slam glory that Cluskey wished for as a youngster. Philipp Petzchner is a former Wimbledon and US Open doubles champion and beating him that day was a big deal.“I was listening to an interview with Tony McCoy,” the 27-year-old says as he thinks back to that win last October.“He was saying that you never know if you’re good enough, or if it’s your last winner. I find him pretty interesting because he’s brutally honest.last_img read more