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Eubanks making strides off court

by Mitchell Gladstone | June 4, 2021 at 2:20 a.m.

Chris Eubanks bounced behind the baseline as the sun beat down on Rebsamen Tennis Center's Stadium Court on Thursday afternoon.

The temperature read 82 degrees, but on the hard surface, it was probably closer to 90.

There was no respite for Eubanks. The shadow from the seating pavilion had yet to creep across the court, and only when the players changed ends could they duck under their respective umbrellas for a couple of minutes out of the sun.

It was about as emblematic of the ATP Challenger Tour as it gets -- there were fans in the stands, but other than their coach or occasional supporter, these guys are on their own.

That's why Eubanks, who dropped his round of 16 match against Ecuador's Emilio Gomez 6-4, 7-6 (4), has started to follow the lead of other tennis pros like Naomi Osaka in prioritizing his mental health.

"Athletes are starting to realize that we have to put our best interests first," Eubanks said. "If taking time away from the court is what's in your best interest, everything else in what you do for the sport comes second. If you're not in a healthy state, then it doesn't matter."

Eubanks, 25, was on-court Monday afternoon when news came from nearly 5,000 miles away that Osaka, the second-ranked women's tennis player in the world, had withdrawn from the French Open.

Osaka, who had said prior to the event that she would not be participating in news conferences for mental health reasons and was subsequently fined $15,000 by Roland Garros for skipping post-match availability after the first round, revealed in an Instagram post later that day she'd been suffering through "long bouts of depression" since winning the 2018 U.S. Open.

It was a moment that resonated throughout the sports world. Athletes applauded Osaka, 23, for making the decision to step away from one of her sport's biggest stages.

For those in the tennis community, especially those that know Osaka personally as Eubanks does, it was not entirely stunning.

"Based on her statement at the beginning, I genuinely think she did not expect the firestorm to come after her the way it did," Eubanks said. "She's not afraid to speak her mind, she's not afraid to put herself first. ... At first, it was more of a shock, a knee-jerk, 'Wow, she pulled out.' But then I was like, 'Yeah, it's in line.'"

Before Eubanks took to the Stadium Court, fellow American Thai Kwiatkowski won his round of 16 match, taking down Alex Ritschard in three sets, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

Kwiatkowski had the rare tennis experience Thursday, playing against one of his former University of Virginia teammates in Ritschard. And it was during his time as a Cavalier that he first understood the benefit of a team environment.

"The thing about an individual sport is that it teaches you so many things [about] how to deal with things on your own. When you're out there, you have nobody and you do learn a lot. But I'm thinking about when I have kids in the next 10 years and what sport I'm going to put them in, and I don't think I'm going to put them in an individual sport because personally.

"Team sports allow you to lean on someone so when you do have those mental ups and downs, you lean on your teammate or coach."

Kwiatkowski, 26, had the opportunity to play in the U.S. Open last summer, losing his first-round match in four sets. But with covid-19 protocols still in place, he had just his coach in the stands.

While Little Rock has nowhere near the glamour as the clay of Paris, Kwiatkowski is relishing the chance to play in front of fans once again. It's one more reason not to check out in the midst of a match despite just $1,500 and a handful of rankings points at stake.

Eubanks occasionally finds himself working through similar issues.

The former two-time ACC player of the year out of Georgia Tech showed little emotion until late in his Thursday match, sometimes Eubanks attributes to "an old-school mentality" that his father ingrained in him as a youth player. He admits he can struggle to find motivation at times.

Eubanks has also dedicated himself to improving as a person away from the court. He recently started seeing a therapist, with hopes of better understanding how he can take care of his mental health.

"I'm slowly starting to break down those walls that have built up for 25 years," Eubanks said. "If I'm not feeling good, I can say that -- it's OK. But it's still something I'm trying to work out."

ATP Challenger Tour Little Rock Open results and schedule

Thursday's results

At Rebsamen Tennis Center, Little Rock

Purse: $53.080

Surface: Hard

SINGLES

ROUND OF 32

(8) Christopher Eubanks def. Nicolas Mejia 6-3, 7-6(3)

Oliver Crawford def. (9) Peter Polansky 7-5, 6-2

(6) Thai-Son Kwiatkowski def. Stevan Kozlov 6-2, 6-1

Jack Sock def. Roberto Quiroz 6-3, 6-1

(4) Ernesto Escobedo def. Donald Young 6-3, 6-0

Emilio Gomez def. Agustin Velotti 7-6(2), 6-3

Alexander Ritschard def. Kevin King 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4

Ulises Blanch def. Zachary Svajda 5-7, 6-3, 6-3

Dayne Kelly def. Nick Chappell 6-1, 7-5

ROUND OF 16

(1) Jason Jung def. Hiroki Moriya 6-3, 6-4

Mitchell Krueger def. Darian King 6-3, 6-2

DOUBLES

ROUND OF 16

Saskumar Mukund/Michail Pervolarakis def. Ruben Gonzales/Martin Redlicki 6-2, 7-6(3)

Today's matches

Matches start at 11 a.m.

SINGLES

Goncalo Oliveira vs. Oliver Crawford

Ulises Blanch vs. (3) Emilio Gomez

(1) Jason Jung vs. (5) Mitchell Krueger

Jack Sock vs. (6) Thai-Son Kwiatkowski

DOUBLES

Christian Harrison/Peter Polansky vs. Christopher Eubanks/Roberto Quiroz

(4) Ante Pavic/Ruan Roelofse vs. Nicolas Barrientos/Ernesto Escobedo

Jackson Allen/Maks Slagy vs. Dennis Novikov/Goncalo Oliveira

Sasikumar Mukund/Michail Pervolarakis vs. SekBangoura/Donald Young OR Hans Hach Verdugo/Jason Jung

(4) Ante Pavic/Ruan Roelofse OR Nicolas Barrientos/Ernesto Escobedo vs. Mitchell Krueger/Jack Sock OR Strong Kirchheimer/Patrick Kypson

NOTE Two other doubles matches are scheduled pending Thursday's late results.

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