Tuesday 19 November 2019

Family man Barry looking forward to home comforts

Sam Barry Photo: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Sam Barry Photo: Cody Glenn / SPORTSFILE
Barry Lennon

Barry Lennon

Sam Barry's preparations were a class apart at Junior Wimbledon 2010. He geared up for the tournament by sitting his final Leaving Cert exams the same day he competed on court in London.

The Limerick man was allowed complete his Spanish paper at the Irish Embassy after a morning singles match at a warm-up competition.

He then returned to SW19 that evening for a doubles clash.

"It was a crazy couple of days. Cool story, I didn't really appreciate it at the time," he recalls.

"My mom went to the Department of Education with a solution rather than a problem and they were happy to accommodate me. It's all credit to her really.

"That little Leaving Cert story is just one of the strings she pulled over the years."

Mum had spent many weekends driving Barry to Dublin to compete before he fulfilled his dream to go to a French tennis academy, aged 13.

A friend from a juvenile tournament told him about the Mouratoglou Academy - whose founder was a former coach of Serena Williams.

"I remember going home to my mom and just being like, 'listen, this is where the best kids my age are training, and if I want to be as good if not better than them I need to be in a similar environment,'" he recalls.

"I loved it. I've nothing but good things to say. I was a small bit homesick the odd time, it's all relative, when your mates are going to a disco or whatever and you're 14 and you're raging you're not going."

He admits the "fear of his mother" encouraged him to learn French and that she still insists, as she did at Wimbledon, that every day remains a school day.

"She's still asking me to this day am I still speaking the language when I'm over here [in France]. I'm 25!"

Barry, who spends 40 weeks a year on the road, relished playing at the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown International Championships this week (despite losing in the second round) and is looking forward to Monday's Irish Open.

He admits that his career can make it feel as if he has "been on the road since he was 13 and stayed on it.

"It's really good to spend time that's productive at home. My friends don't get to see me compete as do my family and my girlfriend. She'd probably be able to count on her two hands the amount of times she's actually seen me play," he says.

Barry estimated it cost €100,000 a year to stay on the road for 45 weeks in a recent documentary on his career, 'Beyond the Baseline'.

He helps make ends meet with the help of private sponsors and contributions from an Ireland Davis Cup players' fund, as prize money just isn't enough.

Tennis does not reward players as well as other sports.

His €15,000 prize money a year pales in comparison to the winnings on offer in golf (Derek Fathauer from America, earned more than €600,000 so far this year on the PGA as world No 255 - Barry's highest ranking).

"Obviously you're raging when you hear that [prize money in golf]. Naturally enough because loads of money makes your life way easier," Barry says.

"[People] judge how successful you are by how much money you're making. I understand it, it makes sense in a way. But that's why to a lot people I'm a tennis journey man because I'm not financially secure and independent.

"But even if I never get any higher, which I'm obviously busting my arse to do, 255 in the world is not bad."

Barry remains proud to have gone pro at 18, a decision which saw him turn down a scholarship to University of California, Berkeley.

Despite the financial struggle and difficulty of the Futures Tour, Sam has inspired younger brother Charlie.

"My brother is 16 and he's one of the best in the country for his age. He's a pretty good player in his own right. He just did transition year and he committed a bit more to his tennis throughout that time," he says.

"My sister, if she heard tennis being spoken about in the house ever again, she'd kill us at this stage.

"She's a big support but she'd rather talk about something else on the telly. No interest in tennis apart from her two brothers."

Irish Independent

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