Tuesday 19 September 2017

Meet the son of former Dublin football manager hoping to break into world's top 100

Simon Carr and (inset) his dad Tommy
Simon Carr and (inset) his dad Tommy
Simon Carr – son of former Dublin footballer Tommy – is learning quickly on the professional tennis circuit. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Sports don't get much more cut-throat than professional tennis. Life in the air travelling around ghost towns, sleeping in sleazy motels and dining on anything but fine cuisine is a universe away from Wimbledon's bright lights.

Many prodigious talents never escape the rigours of the ITF Men's Circuit (Futures) and it shouldn't be entered into lightly. But for 17-year-old Simon Carr, it's all part of his education after going all-in and abandoning school to chase his sporting dream two years ago.

The natural path was to seek a tennis scholarship in America, of which he was offered many, or enrol in Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida, but the Mullingar native made the leap of faith and hit the senior tour to "fast track" his development.

The ink was barely dry on his Junior Cert papers when Carr, son of former Dublin footballer/manager Tommy, started his tennis odyssey and as his peers are worrying about their next Snapchat story, he's slugging it out on far-flung tennis courts.

Telavi, Klosters, Hammamet and Huy are hardly places on anyone's bucket list but Carr, ranked 52 on a Junior circuit which he plays sparingly as he dukes it out with grown men, has become accustomed to their intricacies as he serves a "tough" apprenticeship.

It's a rocky road being away from home, thousands of miles from friends and family, but one he feels he must negotiate. On the other side of the net stand seasoned professionals eking out pay cheques and there's a harsh lesson around every net post.

"It was an easy decision to leave school because it's the only way to make it to the top," Simon says. "It's very different than what most teenagers are at but I'm getting to do what I love rather than going to school and I'd take this over school any day.

"I do love it but it's a case of grinding your way through it at the moment. Once you progress a bit you get to nicer hotels, nicer areas, nicer food but you have to crawl before you walk and I'm just trying to take the first steps.

Westmeath manager Tommy Carr. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE
Westmeath manager Tommy Carr. Picture credit: Dáire Brennan / SPORTSFILE

"It's dog eat dog. I was in Egypt by myself a few months ago and you have to dig deep. There's not many players there that would be making it to the next level so you have to separate yourself and be a little different.

"Playing senior develops my game more than playing guys my own age and I enjoy that challenge. You're playing against journeymen pros who could be 30 and it's tough, they are travelling around for the past 15 years playing the same tournaments.

"It could easily drag you down because they're not there to be professional, they're there to make money before they bow out. Being away from home makes you appreciate things like hot dinners when you are home. But that's the sacrifice you make."

Following in the footsteps of his father Tommy (inset), who won All-Star recognition in 1991, Carr dabbled in Gaelic football and represented Westmeath at U-14 level but after picking up racquet and ball aged nine, it quickly gripped him.

While the likes of Conor Niland and James McGee, who made Grand Slam appearances in recent years, have attempted to break the glass ceiling, Ireland's lack of international tennis success is glaring when compared with other individual disciplines like golf and boxing.

But Tennis Ireland performance director Garry Cahill, who works extensively with Carr, believes he's on track in comparison to others in his age bracket. It comes down to how hard he's willing to graft if his potential is fulfilled but Carr Snr is confident. Tommy, who shoulders the financial burden of his son's globe-trotting journey along with his wife Mary, feels it's "a very calculated risk" spending 30 weeks away from home, usually with coach or parent in tow, as Simon learns his craft the hard way.

"It's a long-term view, the Junior (cert) is not important. No more than minor football, how many of them do you see in five years' time playing? He's fast-tracking himself and getting a lot of the hardship and education out of the way early," Tommy says.

"He's very driven, very focused, working hard is not a problem to him. When he was younger he used to get too uptight and be too hard on himself but he's learning now to cope with his own temperament better.

"If the talent and the drive are there, particularly the drive, you'll go a long, long way.

"But it is only for certain sportspeople, a lot of sportspeople don't want to train five or six hours a day, forget about their social life, forget about their friends. Hopefully we can make the right moves to the right places and get the breaks."

Carr blew some cobwebs away with an exhibition set in DCU yesterday ahead of his main draw appearance at the junior Australian Open in Melbourne later this month and while no goals are set for 2017, winning Down Under is top of his agenda.

After that his eyes are fixed on the future, and while it won't be easy, he wants to leave his mark. "I want this to be my career," he said. "I want to get into the top 100 as soon as I can and climb higher and higher after that."

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