The Eden project: The battle to the top 100

Interest in British tennis has reached new heights this summer. It was confirmed by the BBC that its coverage of Wimbledon had its highest audience peak during Johanna Konta’s matches as the Brit reached the Semi Finals. Inevitably, a lot of the British interest in tennis ends once Wimbledon comes to a close, but for British tennis players vying for a place amongst the elite, the British season is such an important part of the year.

Meet Eden Silva. At 21, she came out of the British grass season with a new career high inside the world’s top 600. The British hopeful received wild cards into the qualifying events of a number of Britain’s tournaments this year, providing a rare glimpse at playing in high level tournaments. This small window per season gives players like Eden important funds and while the use of wild cards to British tennis players has often been criticised, these opportunities help fund the players’ expensive careers.

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Having achieved a maiden WTA victory, in qualifying at the Nottingham Open against Israeli Deniz Khazaniuk (ranked 350 places above Eden), and coming through Wimbledon’s infamous qualifying wild card play-offs, Eden enters August with reason for optimism. The funds, the crowds and the opportunities to play against highly ranked players provides young aspiring British tennis players with a chance to improve their game and earn valuable money to help towards the rest of the year.

“Winning one WTA match at Nottingham [$1,020] and playing qualifies of Wimbledon [£4,375] was a step up for me in terms of prize money. Winning one round at a 15k event is just over £100. Even if you get to a final or win the event, you’re still not earning enough to cover expenses.

”To put the ranking points into perspective, I received 12 points for winning one round of qualifying at a 250k WTA event, compared to the seven points I received as runner-up in a 15k final in Portugal. Life is tough at the entry level tournaments.”

Once the bigger British grass tournaments are over, the rest of the year is spent battling away at more low-level ITF tournaments. For example, at the upcoming 25k ITF event in Woking, Eden will have to come through two rounds of qualifying to make the main draw. If she gets there, players she could face include three inside the top 200, showing the high levels of competition at even the lower level tournaments. And competing at these tournaments becomes even more difficult when you’re playing in front of only a handful spectators.

“All seasons are important for British players, but I feel a lot more ‘fans’ get involved at the British grass tournaments. It makes it more exciting and a little easier to perform and enjoy the moment. Currently there aren’t many spectators that I play in front of each week, but I’m not planning on staying on the ITF circuit for too long.”

Even making the main stages of a WTA tournament doesn’t guarantee a big crowd, as Harriet Dart found out at the Jiangxi Open last week. However, that is the dream – to play in the main draws of WTA events, earning money and ranking points. While it is undoubtedly tough to find motivation in every game when playing in front of smaller crowds across the world, the determination in Silva ensures that she still thoroughly appreciates her tennis career.

“Travelling is one of the perks of being a full time tennis player. You get to see and experience the world at such a young age, which a lot of people my age don’t get a chance to do.” Outside of the British tour, Eden competes in smaller ITF tournaments across Europe, in Switzerland, Portugal and France, and has travelled as far as Bangladesh in her pursuit to achieve her goals.

“Tennis is a lonely sport, until you reach the top 50, I suppose. It’s tough being away from home for months at a time. Luckily I have my dad, who coaches me, as a travel companion. It’s so important to have this support.”

Having a parent to coach is a benefit yet still has expenses. Per tournament, Eden says it costs an average £2,500 in expenses (accommodation, travel and food), putting the exceedingly low earnings of the ITF tour into perspective. This tough route into the world’s elite gets harder when considering the difficulty in hiring top professional sports therapists and physios. And unfortunately it is the injuries that have marred Eden Silva’s progress, meaning the young Brit hasn’t made the leap towards the top she may have hoped. She admitted that her biggest challenge is staying healthy and fit, however, her dedication to the sport is second to none.

“When I’m home, I train six days in the week with about four hours per day on court. I also spend two hours of fitness maintenance per day, making sure my focus is on the quality of the session. I am extremely lucky to have a great team around me. They are a big part of what I need to get me to the next level and inside the top 100.”

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Wanting to emulate her childhood (and current) hero Serena Williams is going to be tough for Eden, especially as she hasn’t received the magnitude of wild cards as other British players ranked in a similar position. However, the attitude to make a successful career is admirable and the focus is undoubtedly there.

The next three years are crucial and staying fit and competitive, as well as winning tennis matches, is of paramount importance. As an individual sport, it’s difficult for players to support themselves and many talented players have to retire at a young age as a result. Eden knows the challenges ahead and is ready to take them day by day. Her life motto is to “stay fierce’, and she will need this if she is to reach her goals.

So when next year’s British grass season comes around and you feel disgruntled about the use of wild cards given to British players, spare a thought for the sacrifice that these young, aspirational athletes have to make on a daily basis. It’s not easy and we must admire them.

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  1. Are Britain’s 2011 stars about to realise their potential? – The Big Racket

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