CASTLEKNOCK LTC’s James McGee says he has “broken through the barrier” in his own mind following his qualification for the main draw of the US Open this week, his first time to advance to that stage of a Grand Slam.
He fought his way through three rounds of qualifiers to eventually defeat China’s Zhang Ze to reach the first round proper in dramatic fashion, coming from a set down to win 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 at Flushing Meadows.
He subsequently fell to Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Nedovyesov on Monday evening, a player ranked 90 places above him in the world, missing out on a delicious date with Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the second round.
Nonetheless, he has his highest pay-cheque in the bank – one of over $35,000 – that equates to close to a quarter of the 27-year-olds career earnings to date.
En route to this stage, McGee has been battling his way through Futures and Challenger level events in far-flung destinations across the globe, including Syria, Nauru, Martinique and, almost a year ago to the day, in Gabon in west Africa.
Crowds on those tours are at the bare minimum but McGee had been battling to build his world ranking to finally make the cut-offs for the Grand Slam qualifiers this year. He came close at Roland Garros before making the breakthrough in emotional fashion last Friday.
“I remember falling to the ground, running up to my opponent to shake his hand as I didn’t want to leave him there waiting and just immediately burst into tears,” he said of the victory over Zhang Ze.
“I’ve never burst into tears for happiness in my entire life. I sat on my chair and I started crying like a big baby.
“I remember the feeling. I was releasing a lot of pent-up emotion of years of hard work and frustration and sacrifice. It was just the most amazing experience.”
And he is now looking forward to contesting more games at this level having made the breakthrough, doing it all without the luxury of being able to afford a coach to travel with him.
“There were times when I doubted it, especially on the Futures circuit. I feel you get conditioned not to break through because it’s very, very difficult, especially if you are doing it alone.
“When you are doing everything yourself and dealing with your losses alone it’s very difficult to stay upbeat. I have had very dark moments.
“I never thought of quitting but there was a stage where I wasn’t sure how far I could go. I’ve broken through the barrier for me in my own mind. It’s a huge occasion in my life,” said McGee.