Four Tiger Tennis Grads Looking for the Point(s)
Sept. 9, 2004
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - On the list of men's professional tennis players from Australia with ATP points, there is No. 5 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 57 Mark Philippousis, No. 84 Wayne Arthurs and No. 1079 Richard Magney, a former No. 1 singles player and four-year letterwinner for the Memphis Tigers' men's tennis program. While Magney may not cross paths with the above-mentioned players in the near future, he left Memphis two weeks ago to take his game to the next level, beginning with two tournaments in Mexico.
"Richard has been playing really well and has had some pretty good success lately," Coach Paul Goebel said. "He has been out a little over a year and achieved the highest ranking on the tour thus far. It's great to see our guys continue playing once they earn their college degrees."
A 2002 graduate of the University of Memphis, Magney is one of a quartet of players who are playing in tennis' minor leagues right now. After spending some time playing some Futures events, Magney broke through qualifying tournaments and into main draws and started earning ATP points. While Hewitt currently has 2,430 points and no trouble getting into tournaments, Magney is trying to parlay his four ATP Entry Points into main draw tournament berths in the Futures Series and qualifying berths in the Challenger series, two of the three hurdles hurdles, along with the Satellites, most aspiring pros can face.
According to the ATPTennis.com website, Magney has earned $918 in 2004. Heading back to Mexico, Magney was hoping to repeat on some early season success he found there in two futures tournaments.
At Chetumal in March, Magney rolled into town ranked 1,085 in the ATP rankings and was the last player into the main draw of the tournament. Not needing to try to weather out four matches in a qualifying draw, Magney turned that entry into a second round appearance, downing his first round opponent 6-4, 6-3 before falling to the tournament's No. 6 seed. For his appearance in the second round, he earned $300.
He ventured to Mexico City the following week to enter into the qualifying round of a Challenger Event, where he lost in the first round of the qualifying draw, thereby earning no points and no prize money.
In his third week in Mexico, Magney was back in the Futures circuit, again in Mexico City. Again, he was the last player into the main draw of the tournament, now ranked 1,264 in the world.
The ATP points structure is set up so that each week some of the previous tournament falls off the current week's ranking. Once that tournament falls off, so do each player's points from that respective tournament.
Again Magney's skirting the qualifying draw helped him into a second round appearance in the main draw. Having a secure seat in the main draw this time, he faced a qualifier in the first round, downing his opponent 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and drawing a match against the No. 3 seed in the tournament, where he fell, 6-2, 6-2. Again, he earned $300.
Like three other Tigers who played under Phil Chamberlain at Memphis, Magney does some training here in Memphis. Having initially two, now three, Lee Taylor Walker went pro beginning this week in California, hitting partners in town alleviates one of the concerns that players in tennis' minor leagues have. Magney can hit with former teammate Ben Stapp, or fellow Tiger grads Joe Schmulian and Walker.
"I'm basically training anywhere I can get court time," former Tiger Joe Schmulian said. Schmulian, who traveled with Magney down in Australia last summer, turned from a teaching pro to a touring pro back in June. "I have a roommate and am sharing an apartment in Cordova. Some of the other guys all have a house together. It's tough though, ya know. Like last month, I was gone for a month and still had to pay rent and utilities. Now I'm getting ready to be gone for a month again, and more rent and utilities. I'm basically using my coaching money from when I was a teaching pro to pay for competition. I'm also using credit cards, personal loans, whatever to travel and compete."
But while Magney still has a hitting partner in Memphis, he still needs to try to secure sponsorship or funding for anything from shoes, to racquets, to court time, to equipment and travel needs to rent and groceries, because winning $118 for a trip to Finland didn't cover much of anything for Magney in June.
Back in the Futures level, only this time in Finland, Magney was back out on the circuit, making an appearance in the main draw in Savitaipale, Finland. Magney fell 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the tournament, where the No. 1 seed of the tournament was Daniel Klemetz, formerly the No. 1 singles player at Middle Tennessee State. Klemetz would fall in the finals of that tournament and would earn $900. Magney would earn $118 for his first-round appearance and his trip to Finland, but would not pick up the all-important ATP point.
"From a qualifier, if you can win four matches and get into the main draw, then you'll earn some prize money," Schmulian said. "But you have to win a match in the main draw to earn a point. And that's what everyone wants, is the point. The satellites and the futures are the first two hurdles. After that, once you get to the Challenger Level, the better you do, the off-the-court stuff gets exponentially easier. The top 100 get straight into the main draws of the big tournaments where you're guaranteed $15,000 for a first-round loss. Then you also get help with hospitality and meals and you start getting looks for sponsorship and you'll also start getting help from your country's tennis federation."
And sometimes, it's the off-the-court stuff that will wear on a player.
"It's really not the tennis that's the tough thing on the road," Schmulian said. Schmulian will leave in September to venture over to Spain for four weeks and four futures tournaments there. "The main thing that's hard on the road is staying mentally positive. Tennis is not the hard part. You're tired, you're away from home, you're dealing with different situations at each tournament, that's what's tough.
Each tournament is something really different. You either learn a new rule, or players try new tactics, like stall tactics. The thing about the Futures Events is there is no umpire on court in the qualifying matches, they roam, so you encounter a lot of challenges and can get into a lot of verbal battles because, even though everyone hits the ball so hard, you're still calling your own lines. Also, you get there, and sign in, and for the qualifier, they draw names out of a hat out of everyone who signed in, so it's possible that you'll travel somewhere and won't even get on the court. That happened to me down in Australia. I traveled halfway around the world and I couldn't even get in to two tournaments there."
Schmulian joined Magney in Australia last summer. The return home for Magney gave both players a much-needed break in funding a place to sleep at night.
"When Richard and I went to Australia last year, he had all the contacts, so the entire time we were there, I don't think we stayed in a hotel one week, that really helped," Schmulian said. "In (tournaments in) Canada and Illinois, we had housing. Usually in the U.S. tournaments, the main draw players get some help in finding housing. And having a home environment to go into makes a huge difference when you're on the road. But for the qualifiers, there's no mercy. If you don't win, no prize money, no points, no housing, zero."
And if the opponents and the housing hassle don't get you, something as simple as the draw might.
"The draws can change too," Schmulain said. "At one tournament, I checked the draw and saw I was supposed to play the No. 9 seed, who was a South American player. So since a lot of South American players play on clay, I spent the night before thinking about facing someone who grew up playing on clay. Then, when I was signing in the next morning, the seeds had been bumped down one and changed, and all of a sudden, I'm playing an American guy who is the No. 10 seed. Just when you think you know it all on this tour, things change."
Back in the U.S., the destinations probably sound a bit less exotic than Finland. Magney finished in the money for the fourth and most-recent time on Aug. 2nd, where he advanced to the Round of 16 in a Futures Event in Decatur, Illinois.
Having earned as many as eight ATP Entry Ranking points by that time, Magney went to a Futures Event in Kenosha, Wis., as the No. 2 seed, but in the qualifying draw, due to the depth of the field.
"The American tournaments are really deep in talent," Schmulian said. "You have a lot of the top collegiate players playing as amateurs and you're facing guys from Stanford, Florida, Illinois. At one tournament, I beat the guy who plays No. 1 doubles (Sam Warburg) at Stanford who just won the NCAA Doubles Championship. I beat him in a qualifying round and now he won the NCAAs and has a Wildcard into the doubles at the U.S. Open."
Back in Kenosha, Magney would win his opening round match easily, 6-0, 6-1, but would be upset in the second round. Another trip with no tournament proceeds or points. And with the changing of the rankings for that week, Magney would lose three ATP points and drop to five ATP points.
"It's tough. In most of the U.S. tournaments you have 128 guys entered and four advance to the main draw," Schmulian said. "And when you get into the main draw, you have to win a match to get that point, it's all about the point."
From Southeastern Wisconsin, Magney went to Bronx, New York, and got into the qualifying tournament for a Challenger Series Event. The trip resulted in a first-round loss, and Magney returned to Memphis to rest and begin training for a second trip to Mexico. But just before leaving for Mexico, Magney ventured to Baton Rouge with former Memphis teammates to play in a money tournament.
"I'm also playing some USTA Pro Events," Schmulian said. "We call those the money tournaments, because they don't give you any points for the ATP rankings, but you get rankings points for your region and you can win some prize money that way as well. The non-pros will compete on that level, but if the prize money is $1,000 or more for the winner, the touring pros will play those tournaments too."
While the eyes of the remainder of the tennis world will be on the 2004 U.S. Open with its $7,946,000 purse, Magney's tournament in Ecuador had a tournament purse of $10,000 to divide among all players in the main draw. The change to Futures tournaments in California beginning this week will increase some of the tournament purses to $15,000.
But as difficult as it is on the road for Magney right now, his three former Tiger teammates facing significantly stiffer challenges.
Ben Stapp, one of Magney's former teammates, left for Australia Monday to play in some Futures Events there. Like Schmulian and former doubles partner Lee Taylor Walker, Stapp will head down under without the benefit of any ATP points.
"All four are representing the University to the highest standards both on and off the court," Coach Paul Goebel said. "They helped develop the program to its national recognition we've gotten in the past few years, we are encouraging their continued effort to play professionally."
At the tournament in Baton Rouge, Stapp beat August 2004 Tiger grad Lee Taylor Walker in the singles finals.
"Ben did go to Germany and got to play on a really good club team there," Schmulian said. "Ben played on some clay there and that really helped his ground strokes. I think his club team won their Division, which was the second-highest in Germany, and he got to practice and play with some great players there. He changed equipment too and is using a different racquet and that all seems to be helping now that he's back in Australia."
"I'm going to head home and play for awhile, then see how the money situation goes," Stapp said. "I might end up back here, who knows."
But without ATP points or a ranking, the Tiger trio will find themselves trying to convince tournament organizers they belong in the qualifying draw, just hoping to string together four good matches. Then, they would typically need to win at least one match in the main draw to earn that much-desired point. It is, as Regions Morgan Keegan Championships Tournament Director Phil Chamberlain puts it, "a significant challenge."
Jackson, Tennessee native Lee Taylor Walker will be the latest edition to the Tiger touring ranks. But Walker will get his start strictly in the U.S. for the first seven weeks of his pro career.
"With LT going to the U.S. Open to receive his ITA (Arthur Ashe) award, he missed the opening week in Spain, so he's going to start in California instead," Goebel said. "He maybe can get to the point where he can play some doubles in addition to singles. You have to have a certain level of ATP points to play in the doubles side, so he will need to either earn points to play or match up with someone who has points to play doubles with them."
After four weeks in California, Walker plans on heading south to Texas for two weeks, then on to Baton Rouge to fulfill a tournament obligation for a friend there who organizes a tournament. Walker's pro start had a bit of a bumpy start following the heat and humidity of Baton Rouge last weekend.
"I was sore when I fell asleep, but when I woke up, the whole side of my body was in a cramp. I took a deep breath and drove myself to the emergency room," Walker said. He was dehydrated.
A hurt tennis player is, well, probably every tennis player on the court. A tennis player who can't play while hurting isn't earning money or points.
"I had a shoulder injury last year after Australia," Schmulian said. "I ended up missing 2-3 months, so I've spent more time recently focusing on flexibility. I'm taking yoga and paying more attention to stretching and getting warmed up enough before I play. I'm feeling healthy, knock on wood, obviously if you get hurt, you can't play, and if you can't play..." shrugs shoulders.
There could be a Tiger reunion of sorts somewhere in Spain. After his tournaments in Central America, Magney could be Spain-bound or may stay in California. Schmulian started last week in Spain. Having ATP points, Magney may have an easier time getting in than Schmulian will, but don't worry about him.
"I really wasn't ready for a desk job yet," Schmulian said. "I like this lifestyle. You stay fit, pay more attention to what you eat, you get to compete, you travel and experience a lot of different things. I'm just really thankful I have the ability to do this."
And as for ever seeing these players play in Memphis sometime in the near future, perhaps hoping for a chance at the qualifying draw for the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships where their former head coach is now the Tournament Director, Schmulian said "there may be a lot of Christmas presents and brown nosing directed Coach Chamberlain's way."