Solihull’s Andrew Fitzpatrick takes to the court at the AEGON Trophy in Nottingham next week looking to win the matches that will not so much develop his career as save it.
In a sport with an image problem, where silver-spooned Brits are seen as spoilt and with an over-inflated sense of entitlement, Fitzpatrick’s experience could not be more different.
The 23-year-old’s story isn’t quite a Serbian classic, of having grown up in a war-ravaged country and being forced to play tennis in an empty swimming pool, but all things are relative.
By British standards the former Langley School student is pushing water up a wall and gravity, real or financial, doesn’t allow that to happen very easily.
Forced to work for three weeks just to earn enough to play a tournament for one, the Warwickshire county player’s development is being strangled by the expense of his sport.
He is currently locked in a cycle where he hasn’t got the money to travel to and compete in the Futures tournaments that would allow his ranking – and his income to improve.
What he wins, which in 2011 was £5,000, he ploughs straight back in to either reach far flung competitions, stay at them or return home and somehow he has managed to find his way to Japan, Spain, Greece and Israel in the past year.
As if that wasn’t an achievement in itself Fitzpatrick has also managed to make an impact on the circuit. Quite an impact it has been too.
At the start of last season he was ranked outside the world’s top 1,000 players and twelve months ago he was inside it by the width of a service line.
Yet a couple of weeks ago he moved up to number 479 and his relentless pursuit of the Brits above him has had something of the African hunting dog about it.
Barely a week goes by when he and precocious compatriot Oliver Golding have not caught somebody or moved higher and faster than virtually anybody else in the country.
However, it’s not a level tennis court and while US Open Boys champion Golding is rightfully enjoying the indulgence of the Lawn Tennis Association and has a real chance of breaking into the top 100, Fitzpatrick is less well taken care of.
If he cannot find a sponsor – and quickly – the story could come to an abrupt end just when it’s getting interesting.
With the eyes of the tennis world about to turn to England Fitzpatrick admits it’s make or break time: “I’ll have to take a view after the grass court season,” he says ominously. “I can’t go on playing without earning a living but that’s the reality. It would be extremely frustrating to have to give up not because you’re not good enough but because of a lack of opportunities or funding.
“Winning tennis matches is not the hard part, it’s all the off-court stuff.
“I spend more time putting my career together off court than I do actually playing tennis.
“I am surprised I have done as well as I have given what I have to do just to play in one Futures.”
That involves part time modelling, he worked in Abercrombie’s shop in London, paid hitting partner work or playing lower ranked events just to pay the bills, of which there are plenty.
Tantalisingly the LTA have rewarded his self-starting with an invitation to join them, at their expense, at a handful of foreign tournaments. It’s no more than a start, though.
“That would be a great help but I’d still be a long way from playing a whole year,’’ said Fitzpatrick. “My summer, my future, hinges a lot on wild cards and if you are going on form I would definitely be in the running to get into qualifying at Queen’s, Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
“But there are no guarantees and it’s a bit of a nightmare. Everyone who knows me says I am one of, if not the, most determined players in Britain but I am struggling for opportunities.”
One has come his way in the AEGON Trophy, which starts on Sunday, at which he has been given an all important wildcard alongside Golding, Jamie Baker and Josh Goodall and where he could pick up the points and prize money to help him through the summer.
He will also be hopeful of reaching the main draw of the Nottingham Challenger the following week, all of which could give him a decent shot of a wild card into qualifying at the AEGON International at Eastbourne.
? If you can help Andrew Fitzpatrick with sponsorship email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07845 598079.