SWORDS man James Cluskey closed out 2013 as Ireland’s highest ranked doubles player after easily his “best ever year” on the world tennis tour.
He closed out the season with three tournaments in the US, playing Challenger level events in Charlottesville, Virginia; Knoxville, Tennessee and Champaign, Illinois, the upshot of which saw him end the season in 153rd overall having hit a high point of 145 during a golden spell in August and September.
During that time, he became Ireland’s first doubles Challenger Tour winner with big wins in Guimaraes, Portugal and in Istanbul, Turkey to set new highs for Irish tennis.
While he says that his end of the year in the US was slightly low key with one win in four games, he is still delighted with how 2013 panned out and is raring to go for a shot at reaching Wimbledon next year.
“In the grand scheme of things, the year was great. I finished 153 and my high was 145. If you are around your career high, you are doing something right.
“There were lots of highlights. The two Challenger wins – one in Portugal and in Turkey – and reaching the final in Turkey where we beat Philipp Petzschner, a guy who has been up to ninth in the doubles rankings and has won Wimbledon and the US Open doubles titles. That was the biggest win of my career. Beating [world number 42] David Goffin was pretty great too!
“It was easily the best year of my career. If you look at my progression, my first year after college I was ranked at 370, then 280 and up to 240. Finishing this year, its 153, so it’s always going up which is really good.”
Next year, however, comes with a new set of challenges for Cluskey. A year ago, he received funding support from the Irish Sports Council, something that is not likely to be forthcoming in 2014. It means that instead of training abroad with top level players and coaches in the winter months – last year, he trained in India at the Bhupathi academy in Bangalore – this year, he will be based at home.
To that end, he has enlisted the help of John Connor at the Irish Strength Institute while he will also work with the likes of former Irish Federation Cup boss Owen Casey and Conor Taylor in Westwood Clontarf.
He will also use the time to try and get funds together to support an expensive life on tour with his current ranking putting him very much on the verge of potential Wimbledon qualifiers.
“I’m all in for Wimbledon and have a good chance of making qualifying. I was pretty close to making a Tour event at the end of this year so I’m doing the right things.
“The financial side is tough, though. Usually people are in their off season at this stage but I need to keep working. I’m conducting clinics in Sutton this weekend and in Carrickmines. I love doing it but there won’t be funding from the Irish Sports Council next year to help out so I need to go elsewhere for funding. It’s not a great situation.
“I don’t like complaining about it because there are people who are worse off. Ideally, I would love to travel [for training] but I need the money to play in tournaments and not to train.”