Eric Quigley is going to great lengths to make it as a tennis professional. So far this year, Quigley, who is currently 354th in the ATP rankings, has traveled to California, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Illinois. He’s also made trips abroad to Canada, Mexico, and Nigeria.
“I don’t want to be going to places like [Nigeria] on a regular basis, but I thought that would be a good opportunity, just for two weeks, to suck it up and try and get as many points as I can,” Quigley, 26, said.
Tournaments held outside of the Americas and Europe typically have weaker fields, and thus offer opportunistic players the chance to scour the globe for ranking points. At Quigley’s second tournament in Nigeria, he lost in the championship match. His opponent, Croatia’s Matija Pecotic, took home 35 ranking points (as the runner-up, Quigley got 20). In contrast, the winner of this weekend’s French Open championship will receive 2,000. Still, a few points earned in the makeshift stadiums of “minor-league” tennis can help players make their way to the sport’s most iconic venues.
Like many pros, Quigley started playing tennis young, at age four. As a part-time instructor at the Louisville Indoor Racquet Club in Kentucky, Quigley’s mother, Cathy, would hit with her son after work. As Eric got older, he started to take lessons and hit with pros at the club.
It wasn’t until late in his junior career that Quigley ascended to a high national ranking.
“I never really put much thought into going pro [out of high school] because I didn’t have much success until later on,” Quigley said. “[Eventually], I was a highly recruited guy. I looked at several schools, and it came down to Georgia and Kentucky.”
In the end, Quigley chose Kentucky. Under the leadership of now-retired Wildcats head coach Dennis Emery and assistant coach Cedric Kauffmann, Quigley put together a successful resume during his four years. He won 172 matches—the most of any player in University of Kentucky history—and reached the singles final of the 2012 NCAA Championships.
On the heels of such a decorated collegiate career, Quigley thought he’d give the next level a try.
“College tennis taught me a lot,” he said. “[Coach Kauffmann] kind of did the same thing I wanted to. He played professionally, and he had some success, so he knew what it [took] to be out there.”
Quigley officially turned pro in 2012. He’s chased points in Futures and Challenger tournaments, and has earned $11,654 in prize money so far this year. Though the elite level he reached in college has eluded him on the pro tour, he has cause to be confident: he’s risen 220 places in the rankings over the last year, and played his first ATP World Tour match this past February in Delray Beach, FL.
This week and next, Quigley is playing two Futures tournaments, one in Winston Salem, NC, and another in Charlottesville, VA. He’ll then take a week off before heading to Vancouver for two more tournaments. He hopes to make the qualifying draw at the US Open, and is looking to finish the season ranked inside the top 300.
He travels with his coach, Murphy Payne, and still keeps in touch with Dennis Emery, who provides additional coaching and support.
“They [tell me] what I need to work on,” Quigley said. “It’s also always good to have eyes on the road with you, and to have someone to talk to, really. It can get lonely on the road by yourself.”
When Quigley has time off during his brutal travel schedule, he returns to Lexington, where he practices with members of the men’s tennis team. On a typical day, he’s on court at 9:30 AM to stretch, and then hits balls for about four hours. Sometimes, he substitutes afternoon practice for a weight-training session.
For now, Quigley is content with his progress. Back in August of last year, he had the opportunity to practice with his idol and 17-time Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer, at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Quigley will continue to plug away. He knows moving up in the rankings doesn’t allow for much leisure time, so he takes opportunities to socialize with friends, family, and his girlfriend, Tara Kleinhenz, whenever he gets home. He also looks to sightsee when on the road at tournaments.
“When I’m not playing tennis I like to, um, play tennis,” Quigley joked.
Without much time off court, Quigley is determined to finish the 2015 season on a strong note. There are numerous hard-court tournaments in North America from June to November, so he will look to do some damage on his favorite surface (without the added expense of excursions to Africa). With his country starved for a new hero in men’s tennis, Quigley seems willing to do anything—and go anywhere—in order to one day fill that void.