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Bahamian tennis pros feeling the pinch of not playing

Justin Roberts.

April 23, 2020

Simba French

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Bahamian professional tennis players Justin Roberts, Kevin Major Jr. and Justin Lunn would have been on a court playing somewhere in the world this week, but instead they are out of work as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like all sports, tennis has been at a standstill since March. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) is looking to resume its tennis tournaments by July 13, but even that date is uncertain for now. COVID-19 confirmed cases globally are over 2.6 million with over 180,000 total deaths.

Roberts is the highest ranked ITF men’s singles player in the country at number 416. He entered the professional ranks back in January of this year after playing on the college circuit. Roberts said he was looking forward to having a productive year on tour. He said he will use this time to work on his skills.

“The first week or two was a little rough. I had to get adjusted to not being able to play tournaments. We are always on the road so this is strange for us… There is no real way to make income right now. I am lucky because I can practice. I know people at home throughout Europe are stuck indoors – they can’t go outside and do things, so I am lucky in that I could do that. We all would like to get back to the tour and pursue our dreams,” Roberts said.

For the 23-year-old, he is on the government of The Bahamas’ Subvention Program which keeps him afloat with his bills, training and with purchasing meals. He said the tour helps him financially and if he performs well, it will improve his ITF rankings.

Major, who is at home on New Providence, has not had any money coming in but said that he is fortunate enough to be living with his mother, which helps to ease the financial burden of rent. He is ranked at number 1,178 in the ITF singles rankings.

“Luckily I still live with my mom,” Major said. “I have been okay so far. A lot of people have not been as fortunate as I am and I understand that. I am not really worried about tennis as a whole because it is minor compared to what is going on in the rest of the world. To see people suffering is truly heartbreaking.”

The 25-year-old said that he was set to be in Germany – a part of his tennis journey that he was excited for. He was recruited to play for Tus Sennelager – a professional tennis team in Paderborn, Germany. Major said he made a good decision not to go to Germany because he was gauging the coronavirus pandemic. He said he didn’t want to get stuck in Germany, saying there is no other place he would prefer to be other than The Bahamas.

Lunn, 28, said tennis is an expensive sport. He said it is tough to get a sponsor, but he has been working on some things to get back on the court.

“It has been pretty difficult because everything about tennis is expensive,” he said. “Sometimes people just don’t have it, so they have to come home and go on a break and it slows you down. We are looking for a sponsor and they are looking at younger players. I can still play. I want to get back out here and still travel. During this break, I am working on things that I need to work on to get back out there. It is tough when you want to play, and you don’t have the money because everything in tennis is about money.”

Roberts, who played the latter part of his collegiate career at Arizona State University, is one of those fortunate tennis players because he has an opportunity to train at the Dent Tennis Academy in Keller, Texas. He is coached by Taylor Dent.

“Where I live in Texas it is not so bad,” Roberts said. “I have been training and working with my coach. This is the time to improve my game as much as I can. I’m trying to stay positive. I cannot control not being able to travel and play in tournaments, but I can control how many hours I can put on the court every day and work on my fitness. No one can play tournaments right now so we are on the same playing field, but I am lucky enough where my academy is open and I can still train.”

Major and Lunn train together when they both are in town. However, social distancing has forced them to their separate spaces where they have no choice but to do separate mini workouts.

Tennis tournaments rely on sponsors to offset some of the costs, and Major said that it will be tough to find sponsors for tournaments once the sport resumes.

“With tennis tournaments, the sponsors are needed to host an event because hosting is so expensive. When we do come back from this, we still won’t be able to play right away because those companies are also hurting. A lot of people fail to understand that these companies have other things to deal with so they cannot be giving out millions and millions of dollars,” Major said.

Lunn, a nine-year professional, said once everything gets back to normal, he will look to return to the United States.

“As soon as I hear that things are opening up, I am going. Hopefully by July, I have a couple players I can coach. A sponsor will always be good because it helps in a big way. I hope to be ready by then,” Lunn said.

Roberts said that if tournaments resume in July, he will be ready to play. He said he has heard rumors that tennis might be shut down until October or November, or the year might be scratched altogether. He added that governments around the world will have to understand what’s going on before thinking about recommending a resumption of sporting activities in the respective countries.

These are uncertain times for a lot professional tennis players. A lot of them have been out of work since March. A few may drop out of tennis altogether, but Major said he is even more motivated to continue.

“I don’t have a choice to not play – it was taken away from me,” said Major. “This stoppage has built more fire in me. If you are telling me that I cannot do something, and you are forcing me to not do it, that gives me more fire to do it. The type of person who I am, I want to do things that others say I can’t do.”

One of the highlights of Major’s tennis journey last year was winning the Bahamas Lawn Tennis Association’s (BLTA) Men’s Open National Tournament in December. After that, he took a break in the first two weeks of the new year to give his body some rest.

In college, Major played for the Seminole State College Trojans in Seminole, Oklahoma.

All three players are encouraging Bahamians to stay indoors and listen to the government officials and health care professionals as it relates to the measures that are in place in the face of the new coronavirus pandemic. They said Bahamians should also try to go outside for a few minutes each day to take in some sunlight.

Roberts and Major are scheduled to play together on The Bahamas’ Davis Cup team later this year once a state of normalcy is returned. Baker Newman and Philip Major Jr. are the other members of that team.

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