SWORDS tennis player James Cluskey is on a high this week following what he describes as “probably the best win of my career” as he and doubles partner Fabrice Martin claimed an ATP Challenger title in Istanbul last week.
In so doing, he joined a rare breed of Irish players, becoming just the third man to win a Challenger level event and the first since Conor Niland in 2010.
En route to the title, Cluskey and Martin beat Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili and Belgium’s David Goffin, both of whom have been high in the world ranking’s top 60 and played the likes of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Grand Slam matches in recent years.
They were defeated 7-6, 6-2 in the quarter-final of the competition, giving Cluskey a huge confidence boost.
“I’ve played a lot of Challenger this year but it was the first that I had won,” he told GazetteSport. “To break through and make a final and win at a higher level than the futures against some of the main players just under the main tour.”
From there, the Swords man swept past a Spanish pair in the semi-final before winning the final 3-6, 6-3, 10-5 in the super set against South Africa’s Brydan Klein and Ruan Roelofse.
This marquee result came a little bit out of the blue, and he admitted to some indifferent results which had tested his resolve.
“I didn’t really feel this was in the pipeline. I’ve played a lot of Challenger events and my form hasn’t been great since the beginning of the year, winning a couple of rounds here and there. It’s been tough on clay but coming into this week, the win over Goffin and Gabashvili gave me the belief again.
“They are two top players and when you beat them, you know you are good enough. A burden has been lifted and its re-energised me, putting me back in the top 200 in the world.”
And while times can be tough travelling the tennis tour, Cluskey says he now has renewed vigour to push on.
“I’m with some British guys this week and with Wimbledon, they have a lot more sources of money to help them out. I received a little bit from the Sports Council for the first time which I am very grateful for.
“I got it because I broke into the top 250 in the world but I have been told it is gone for next year so it is difficult. Leinster tennis have helped me while every time I am home, I’m not really training, I’m doing clinics and coaching.
“I was pretty down results-wise and it means not much money was coming in. But now, after last week, I have more belief and can keep going.”