Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 May 2015

Briton wins match at Wimbledon to go from rags to respectability

It has been a long, long road from Uzbekistan to Wimbledon. Chris Eaton was bedding down in a £5.50-a-night hotel in the country's far-flung city of Fergana last month – the best value he could find during another of the far-flung tennis tournaments where he has eked out what hardly passes as a living.

Today, in a week which has seen him earn a sum equivalent to half his entire career earnings by winning his first-round match at the All England Club, British tennis' new and utterly improbable hero prepares for a second-round men's singles match with the satisfaction of knowing he can afford something better next time.

Eaton is 661st in the world rankings and, by Wimbledon's ratings, the lowest-ranked player to progress to the second round – where he faces the combustible Russian Dmitry Tursanov. He is also a perfect metaphor for the struggle it can be to make it to SW19 from the margins of the sport.

Eaton had to win six matches – three apiece in pre-qualifying and qualifying tournaments – just to reach the first round proper in SW19 and even then he needed a wild card after defeat in the qualifying at Roehampton, south-west London. Yes, Eaton affirmed yesterday, there certainly were times when he had felt like giving up and rued sacrificing the cricket potential which saw him undertake trials for Surrey. "There are times when you don't enjoy it and then there is no point doing it," he said.

Celebrity status didn't sit all that easily on the 20-year-old's shoulders and he was navigating a careful path around the question of his girlfriend Emma Cowles, a Sussex university student and model. "She's just sort of floating around," he said, when asked what type of modelling. "I'll let her do what she likes to do and I'll concentrate on my tennis."

But he, too, can bank on a little more glamour now. In Uzbekistan – where Eaton won three games to qualify for a hard-court event only to lose in the first round – he took what comforts he could get. "All you need is a bed but a couple of times we got a fridge. It was pretty warm out there."

Now, for at least a month or so, the worry of whether he can afford to play an ATP tournament – like next month's at Newport, Rhode Island – is gone. "If I hadn't done this I wouldn't be able to look at Newport. Hopefully I can now have a schedule based on tennis rather than money," he said. And there might also be a few less pay-outs needed from the computer firm run by his father, Mike. Theirs is the logo – not Nike or Adidas – which he wears on his shirt.

Several sources of inspiration have seen the 20-year-old persevere. He has a bond with Tim Henman, who attended the same public school – Reeds, in Cobham – and the example of the former Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras to draw on. "I try to play a little bit like him," Eaton said.

But Eaton, whose "relaxation" technique before Tuesday night's win was to watch videos of Gladiator, skipping "the boring bits and just watching the fight scenes," has arrived in the second round with a tennis weapon all of his own: a 130mph serve which delivered him 40 aces in one of this year's Wimbledon qualifying matches.

Victory will also guarantee Eaton £28,125 – £1,500 more than his entire official earnings of £26,650 – though there is no prospect of him trading in his S-reg Vauxhall Astra, which has a wing mirror stuck together with duct tape. "People have been telling me to get a new car but there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "I might get some coloured duct tape to jazz it up a bit but I love it."

The prizes

First round loser: £10,250

Second round loser: £17,000

Third round loser: £28,125

Fourth round loser: £50,000

Quarter-final loser: £93,750

Semi-final loser: £187,500

Runner-up: £375,000

Winner: £750,000

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