Ireland’s James McGee talks about life on the pro tennis circuit

Ireland’s James McGee is one match away from the first round proper of the Australian Open after a remarkable comeback win in Melbourne yesterday. A victory today against Germany’s Daniel Brands puts him in the main draw and in the way of some decent earning potential.

Q: How important is it to be competing at this level and to make the main draw of grand slams?

A:“It’s important. It’s ultimately what I want to do. I want to be in the top 100. 

I’ve wanted to do it for years, I wanted to do it when I was much younger but there are so many different challenges that got in the way, in terms of finances, in terms of injuries, just countless things. 

I could talk about it for hours. 

It means a lot but the key in tennis is not to make the matches bigger than what they are. It is just a match. 

Everyone feels terrible after a loss and great after a win but the more even keel you are, the better. It’s easy saying that after a win but one match at a time.

It’s just down through the years, I’ve had some really tough losses so I know what it’s like to lose and in fact, I was having those feelings here [in his second-round qualifying match], thinking: ‘this is not looking good’, but I hung in there, did whatever it took to get back in. 

There’s only going to be one winner at the end of the day in this tournament and tennis players lose on a weekly basis. 

So if you can just find ways to get those extra wins, it means a lot. 

You might not win the tournament but you can still progress a lot, you can improve your game, you can have a lot of good victories that can help your career and help so many different parts of your game.”

Q: You’re 28 and you’ve been playing a long time. How tough has it been for you to get to this point?

A: “Ah it’s been tough, especially the years between say 2009 to 2012 or 2013. On the Futures Tour, it’s horrendous. 

It really is very tough, because you’re making $50, $100 a match against stiff opposition.

Radu (Albot, from Moldova, whom he beat in qualifying), a couple of years ago, I could have played him for $50 or $100 in a Futures first round, easily.

It’s so, so tough. I think, especially coming from Ireland, it’s tougher because we don’t have the backing of let’s say, the USTA, like the Americans, or the French, the Aussies, or the Brits, with the big federations.

So I’ve had to sort of figure it out myself, I’ve written to a lot of sponsors, I’ve tried to get my name out there, started the blog, tried to make myself, what’s the word, [recognisable]. 

I’ve tried to get online, and I think that’s helped my profile, raised my profile basically, and I think I’ve done a good job with that.”

Q: But you’ve done it yourself?

A: “I’ve done it all myself, it’s been a huge amount of work but obviously wins like today get my name out there a little bit more and I can still say, hey, I’m looking for sponsorship. 

I think people don’t really know the numbers, how much it actually costs. You’re honestly looking — and I think people are well aware of this now — if you’ve got a coach with you on the road and you’re travelling 35-40 weeks a year….my expenses for the first half of last year were €75,000, up to June. 

So you’re looking at €150,000 a year. 

If you think of the cost of coming down here to Australia, bringing a coach….and then if you want to take it to the next level, like with guys at the top, you’re going to see a lot of physios. 

Because it’s one thing having a coach but these matches are becoming so physical, some of the matches are three hours, your body tightens up, your muscles tighten up, you’ve got less than 24 hours to recover. 

It’s turning into a game where recovery is everything, so players are now bringing physios on board, so if you’ve got that extra bit of cash, you can bring a physio and it adds up. That’s why the best players in the world tend to have the largest teams.”

Q: What do you think is the break-even point, in rankings terms?

A: “I think most people say top 100, once you’re making the main draw of slams.

If you’re making four slams a year, just to lose in the first round is €160,000 a year.

So that’s really a good [idea of the] breaking even point.

But if you want to be making a profit and to be able to buy your own house and car and everything like that, I think you want to be inside the top 50.

That’s fairly clear.

Q: The Australian Open give you some extra money to cover flights and accommodation. Does that help a lot?

A: “Absolutely. The Australian Open is amazing. You’ve got AUD$2,500 (€1,600) just given to us, to come down here. 

Craig Tiley is one of the best tournament directors, everyone loves him here. We get free racket restrings, per round, and the transport’s amazing, free food the whole week. 

They really do look after the players, they have a good idea of players outside the top 100 and how tough it is.

 There’s only 100 players in the world going to make a living and it’s very, very tough to break into that top 100.

Q: Do you get the cheque when you sign in?

A: “We get a player-package. We get a few gifts — I got a teddy bear, a koala.

I got a gift with a cheque inside it and then I got my credentials and because the tournament is sponsored by a few different companies, you get a few things, like Ugg boots — I got them for a friend. Stuff like that, it’s cool.


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