'Only 100 players make a profit out of this every year' - Ireland's Simon Carr battling to become tennis sensation
Not many Irish kids have shared a Wimbledon dressing room with the great Roger Federer, but Simon Carr appreciates his brush with one of sport’s modern icons may be fleeting.
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.
His time as a junior is over and starts in the professional ranks in the challenging tennis underworld known as the Futures tour, which is effectively the third division of the professional game. 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 GAA footballer and manager Tommy sat down for an exclusive interview The Independent.
“It is a tough world I am in as only 100 players make a 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 the tie against Denmark in February earlier this week.
“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’s sponsors Wilson, Solinco and Lotto offer some support on his mission to become the Ireland’s first major breakthrough act on the world tennis stage, but the glamourous world frequented by Federer, Rafael Nadal and the rest of the tennis A-listers still seems a distant fantasy for Ireland’s ‘next big thing’.
Miami, Monte Carlo, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows will not be on Carr’s travel list next year, as he looks to make his mark in tournaments to be stages in Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt as he prepares to stay in less than luxurious hotels in what will be a loss making enterprise for some time to come.
“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 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 next sporting superstar, but he is embracing the challenge in front of him with the attitude of a champion.