All eyes are on Chris Eubanks as he returns to Wimbledon (2024)

  • D'Arcy Maine, ESPN.com

Jul 1, 2024, 09:16 AM ET

CHRIS EUBANKS WASN'T feeling optimistic about the state of his game when the grass season began in 2023.

He found himself unable to escape his negative thoughts about the surface, from his movement to the slower speed of the ball. After losing in the second round at the Surbiton Challenger event in June, he reached out in near-desperation to Kim Clijsters, the four-time major champion and former world No. 1, for guidance or tips or anything that could help him get through the following weeks.

— Christopher Eubanks (@chris_eubanks96) July 1, 2023

Clijsters responded with some encouraging words and advised him to work on his footwork. Eubanks took her words to heart. Not only did he see notable improvements, but he also found his mentality about the grass changing. Understanding his limitations, he focused on the aspects of his game that translated on the surface, including his big serve and aggressive net play.

"I just kind of had to flip my mindset a little bit and then the movement naturally began to get a bit better because I felt like I didn't harp on it nearly as much," Eubanks told ESPN last month. "I just kind of focused on the things that I did do well on the surface, and then I allowed the rest to take care of itself."

Just weeks later, Eubanks won the first ATP title of his career at Mallorca, cracking the top 50 for the first time. He arrived at Wimbledon the following day brimming with confidence and rode his newfound momentum all the way to the quarterfinals, including recording upset wins over Cameron Norrie and Stefanos Tsitsipas. It was his best-ever result at a major and his heroics made him a fan favorite. His ranking surged to a career high of No. 29 soon after, and it proved to him exactly what he was capable of.

One year later, the 28-year-old Eubanks returns to Wimbledon looking to get his season back on track after what has been a challenging stretch. After failing to win a match on clay, Eubanks has had some success already on grass -- he reached the quarterfinals at Halle -- but fell in the opening match of his defense mission at Mallorca last week. Still, Wimbledon has been a bright spot on his upcoming calendar throughout most of the spring. He will open his 2024 campaign at the All England Club on Tuesday against qualifier Quentin Halys.

While he was trying to not think too far ahead last month, Eubanks, who was recently named to the U.S. Olympic team for Paris, couldn't hide his excitement about returning to the site of his career breakthrough.

"[Last year] did wonders for me," Eubanks said. "It allowed me to understand that in any given week, I could catch fire. Now I know I have a level that can propel me to winning a tour title, quarterfinals of a Slam. Just things that I really didn't fully believe that I could do before. I enter tournaments now knowing that I can go on a run and there's no reason why it can't happen ...

"I'm super excited to be back on something that feels really, really familiar, which is the grass, and hopefully we can find a little bit of that magic from last year."

Before the last Wimbledon, Eubanks' best result at a Slam had been reaching the second round, something he had done twice in eight main draw appearances. His record at the All England Club was even less notable. Eubanks had played in the qualifying draw at the tournament four times but had never advanced to the main draw.

He became just the 13th man in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals in his main draw debut at the event and the first American man to do so since 1984. It was the Cinderella story of the tournament and the crowds were enamored with his enthusiasm and earnest interviews after each victory.

"I feel like I'm living a dream right now," Eubanks said on court after defeating Tsitsipas for the first top-five win of his career.

While many of the top Americans had heralded junior careers or achieved head-turning success at young ages, Eubanks wasn't even heavily recruited by the top college programs. But he ultimately caught the attention of the coaching staff at Georgia Tech -- and he more than made the most of the opportunity at the school.

During his three seasons, Eubanks was twice named the ACC Player of the Year and was a two-time All-American. He turned pro following his junior season in 2017. Success was far from immediate. He mostly played at lower-tier Futures and Challengers events and slowly creeped his way up the rankings. He invested in a full-time coach in 2021 -- something that can be financially challenging for someone ranked well outside the top 100 -- and continued to put in the time in practice and in the gym.

Progress was slow and he started to question if it was worth it, even doubting if he would ever reach the game's highest levels. But things started to turn around at the Miami Open in March of 2023. Coming through qualifying, Eubanks rattled off six wins and reached the quarterfinals for the first time at a 1000-level event. While he ultimately lost to Daniil Medvedev, the run propelled him into the top 100. He cried when he found out he had reached the milestone.

It had been something he had been working towards throughout his entire professional career, but once he reached double digits, he stopped putting focusing on rankings or anything long-term.

"After Miami, I just kind of stopped setting goals, whether it was a number [ranking] or a certain amount of wins," Eubanks said. "I just kind of threw that out and instead said, 'All right, am I putting my best foot forward today? Did I do better today than I did yesterday?' And if that's the case, then we achieved our goal. Now we just keep doing that every day and I'm still just trying to embrace that mindset."

It's something that has served him well in the ups and the downs. There have been both over the past year.

Eubanks reached the quarterfinals in his very next tournament after Wimbledon at the Atlanta Open and then arrived in New York for the US Open the following month seeded for the first time at a major. There he was thrust into the spotlight before play got underway, making television appearances on national morning shows and even getting invited for a backstage tour at "Hamilton" from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Even several of his peers couldn't help but express their joy about his recent results.

"Obviously I love Chris and I've known him for so long and I think being able to see someone who works so hard like Chris, [who is] what you would call a student of the game -- he eats, breathes, and sleeps tennis -- to see him be able to do well and have the results that every tennis player dreams of is pretty incredible," Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, told the ATP at the time. "And I think we all are just so happy for him."

But despite playing in front of enthusiastic home crowds on show courts, Eubanks lost in the second round. This season has been even more challenging. Before arriving in Halle, he had a 3-12 record in tour events and was on an eight-match losing streak. He fell in the second round at the Australian Open and in his opener against now-world No. 1 Jannik Sinner at the French Open.

By the end of a disappointing winless clay season, Eubanks was excited for a fresh start on grass. He lost his first-round match at Stuttgart but rediscovered his form on the surface in Halle the following week -- even defeating Alexander Bublik, the defending champion, in three sets in the Round of 16. It marked his first quarterfinal appearance since Atlanta, nearly 11 months ago.

He had high hopes for Mallorca but ultimately lost in his first-round match to 18-year-old Jakub Mensik, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. His ranking fell 20 spots to No. 62 as a result, making his Wimbledon performance even more crucial.

Eubanks was trying to stay as focused as possible on every tournament ahead of Wimbledon. He calls his 2023 experience at the tournament a "blur" and remembers being laser-focused on every match, but not much else.

"You don't really have the time to sit back and think too much about what's going on [when it's happening]," Eubanks said. "You're just focusing on what you can control and then it just all happened so quickly. By the time you finish, you look up and you go, 'Whoa, what was that?'"

Now a member of Wimbledon's "Last Eight Club," which formally recognizes players who have reached the quarterfinals in singles at the tournament with tickets for life, access to an exclusive lounge and a daily happy hour, Eubanks doesn't think he'll have much time or interest to take advantage of the perks. But he did get an official welcome letter and a pin last year and will check it out "later down the line."

Even with his struggles this season, Eubanks enters the 2024 tournament in a markedly different position than last year. In 2023, he was a virtual unknown to many and he had to extend his hotel reservation three times throughout his run. But this time around, in addition to the 360 ranking points he will try to defend, he will be a must-watch for fans from the start and he is prepared for a long stay. He didn't know how he would feel when he walked onto the grounds for the first time but knew it would be a welcome feeling.

And that he belonged.

"I know as it gets closer and closer, I'll start to internalize it more and really think about what it's going to feel like to be back," Eubanks said. "I would assume it's going to be an exciting feeling and it will be exactly what I'm looking for after what's really been a tough stretch this year... I still know what I'm capable of if things start to go my way and I start to gain a bit of momentum. And now I know that I'm on a surface that I've had success on before. I'm excited."

All eyes are on Chris Eubanks as he returns to Wimbledon (2024)
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