Every year, more than 10,000 players decide to try their hand on the men’s professional tennis circuit. They compete in the Futures circuit, often in out-of-the-way countries where a tennis tradition is, at best, in its infancy, for the opportunity to become a world-ranked professional.
Assuming they perform well on the Futures circuit, the Challenger circuit, the next level of the professional game, offers even stiffer competition before players can venture onto the holy grail of the ATP Tour.
Adopting a lively, underdog-with-a-dream writing style, Gregory Howe, a thirty-something English teacher working in north London, realised that if he didn’t do something about his ambition to play on the much-vaunted ATP Tour, he faced a career promising a succession of middle management roles and, presumably, the prospect of telling his grandchildren “I coulda been a contender…”
Howe writes well (which, given his profession, he should) and the reader has an immediate empathy with him and his ridiculously ambitious aim. We kick off in Bangkok, “precisely the kind of place that the …Futures tour is found,” with our budding Wimbledon champion taking a leaf out of Jimmy Connors’ book and exercising as soon as he lands in a city prior to a tournament. It’s midnight, but that doesn’t deter Howe, though it does draw some strange looks from hotel staff in the one city on earth where they’ll have seen just about everything.
Perhaps it was jet lag, but at a training session for Asian youngsters the next morning to which our intrepid tennis player is invited, he fails to make it to the afternoon session because he is so out of shape. The setback fails to rattle Howe and in his first Futures contest against a local Thai player the following day, he records a comfortable 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Howe’s next game takes place in the afternoon of his first and his good form continues as he cruises past his Korean opponent, winning 6-0, 6-1. Suddenly, he’s on a roll before he comes up against a burly Australian, a boy of 16, who he admits was “simply too good” for him.
Nevertheless, the author’s search for ATP points and an official world ranking continues across Queensland, East Africa, Namibia (where one match almost turns very nasty), South Africa, Tunisia and beyond. But this is no travelogue; readers are rooting for their man every time he steps off a plane and locates another tennis court with ropey nets or cracked walls, hopeful that his latest injury won’t flare up again.
It would be unfair to reveal whether Gregory Howe’s journey has a happy ending, but if you like tales of aspirant sportsmen or women having a damn good go, you’ll enjoy Chasing Points.