Tennis Premier League hopefully inspires millions in India: Wimbledon doubles champion Ebden

Australian Matthew Ebden believes that the Tennis Premier League can be the big-ticket tournament that Indian players aspire to.

FILE PHOTO: Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell beat defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic to become the first Australian men’s pair to win Wimbledon since Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in 2000.

FILE PHOTO: Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell beat defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic to become the first Australian men’s pair to win Wimbledon since Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in 2000. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Australian Matthew Ebden believes that the Tennis Premier League can be the big-ticket tournament that Indian players aspire to.

At 34, Australian tennis player Matthew Ebden is having the best season of his career. He, along with compatriot Max Purcell, started the year with a runner-up finish in men’s doubles at the Australian Open, going down to local pair Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios in the final.

While Ebden once again fell at the final hurdle with fellow-Australian Sam Stosur in the mixed doubles summit clash at Wimbledon, he and Purcell came from behind to beat defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic and became the first Australian men’s pair to win Wimbledon since Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, famously known as ‘The Woodies’, in 2000.

Ebden will come to India in December later this year for the fourth season of the Tennis Premier League (TPL), for which he is the marquee player and international spokesperson.

In an interaction with Sportstar, Ebden talks about TPL, his Wimbledon triumph, the Woodies and more.

Q: What convinced you to join the Tennis Premier League and come to India to play?

A: I’ve been to India quite a few times. I’ve been here for the Commonwealth Games (where he won bronze in singles). I’ve been here for other tennis tournaments over the years. Most recently, I was playing in Pune and Bangalore. I played doubles with Leander Paes. I have a lot of Indian friends. It’s probably nearly all the Indian tennis players. Through them, I have heard about and seen the growth of this league over the last few years. [I have] become more and more interested about it and wanted to be involved.

I have always had a strong connection with India, the Indian people and the players. I’ll come and play there in front of all the fans which I love, with the players who are super friendly and warm and welcoming. Also, the opportunity to help grow this league into something great and big is what I really see and what I really want to help do.

Q: The Wimbledon final was a four-hour-long match and you were down by a break in the last set. What was going through your mind at that point and how did you turn it around from there?

A: We were down two sets to one. Nearly all through the tournament, we were down a lot. Sometimes two sets to love and we thought, “Okay, we have to do it again in five sets”, but we were just trying to turn things around. We knew we had the ability and the tools. We really believed we could win. We got the fourth set, but then the 5th set came. We got down a break and on grass, against the best doubles pair in the world, one break can often mean the end of the set and the match. So, we thought, “this is slipping away”. They were serving at 4-3. It was one of the last two games we had the chance to break. I went over to Max and said, “Alright mate, if there’s ever a time to lift our games or clutch, this is the time now. It’s now. Like, this is it.”

And I got to give him credit. He turned it on and started hitting return winners left, right and center. He went “god mode” and I did what I could to hit some return winners as well, win some points for him and help at the net and serve well. Somehow, we got to the super tiebreak and just won nearly every point.

I was serving on match point. I hit a serve and it looked like it was in. We weren’t sure they were going to challenge and then we realized, it’s in and we’ve hit an ace. We couldn’t believe it. We knew we had won and then, we both just passed out on our backs on the grass.

Q: That synchronised fall was basically both of you passing out and not something you had planned?

A: Absolutely. Everyone has been asking us these last couple of weeks. Did you plan that? Did you plan that celebration? Did you synchronize it? What happened then?

I wasn’t even looking at Max. You can see me looking to see if the ball was in and I think it’s an ace. I start to turn to look at my box to celebrate, but I only get about halfway turned and then I just passed out on my back, had no control of my body and it was the same thing with Max. Once he realized, we both just passed out at the same time.

Q: Overall, it’s been a great year for Australian tennis. Ash Barty won the Australian Open women’s singles title. There was an all-Australian men’s doubles final and now, you and Max won Wimbledon. What do you think Australian tennis is doing right and what can Indian tennis implement along similar lines?

A: That’s part of the reason I also want to come and be involved with this Tennis Premier League and Indian tennis as a whole because you guys have so much opportunity to grow and develop. Your events, players and all your structures. From the very juniors through all the levels of U-12, 14, 16, 18, the junior tournaments, then into the profession of futures, challengers and tour events. You need something at the top for the players to aspire to.

You’ve got the Davis Cup but now this Tennis Premier League can hopefully really grow and go all around and hundreds of millions of people in India can get inspired.

All these little dreams and things like to be on TV playing in front of big audiences. Big events inspire people. You need to know the fans and the sponsors to come.

The Indian tennis federation (AITA) needs to come, take all that and create the pathways for the players. You need the influence of great players that you have in India and maybe also from outside. Coaches for technique, physical trainers for all the things that it takes to make great tennis players. It’s a very big ecosystem that takes to create a big successful tennis country and India has already so many parts of that and so much potential and it can easily get the rest of it. That’s also what’s inspiring me to come, help and be part of that. Starting with the Tennis Premier League in December, it’s going to go from strength to strength.

Q: Did the Woodies send any congratulatory messages to you?

A: Both Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde have been coaches of mine. Mark has spent a lot of time coaching me in my career. Todd was one of my coaches at Davis Cup.

Mark Woodforde was actually on the warm-up court with us before the (Wimbledon) final because one of the players we played against, Pavic, is a left-hander. We were looking for a left-hander to come and hit some left-handed serves at us just to get us warmed up. Mark came out on the practice court with us and did that.

Todd was messaging me before the match. He was playing the Legends doubles. At the Wimbledon Champions Ball, he was actually the MC. It was very nice to share that moment with him and make some special memories

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