Matthew McClurg is taking his game to new heights in Michigan
Matthew McClurg didn’t quite know what to expect when he entered his tennis scholarship at Davenport University in Grand Rapids Michigan but his first season could not have gone any better.
The 19-year-old from Comber, a top Irish junior player, entered a whole new world and he has thrived — finishing the year by picking up the Best Newcomer award and enjoying an NAIA national collegiate ranking of 30th.
Matthew admits that his whole understanding of the sport has been transformed by his American experience, whether that is in relation to coaching or the level required to be anywhere close to the very top on the professional and college circuit.
“Being there has certainly helped me mature a lot. It just opens up the whole global scene of world tennis and makes you realise how savage a sport it is — how hard it is to be on tour because I see guys here who are fantastic, serving at 130mph. You hear about people in the top 200 sleeping on airport floors because they can’t earn enough money,” said Matthew.
“I finished the year ranked 30th in the NAIA national rankings for singles and the guys at the top are ranked 300-400 in the ATP pro Tour. You’re playing against top guys all the time, many with ATP singles points.
“The whole system is 110 per cent step up from tennis in Northern Ireland. Just listening to the stories of the other guys and the level they have been at before coming here just makes you realise the level you are coming from — they’d been at three or four levels above where I was coming from in terms of the facilities they had and who they were hitting with.
“One of the guys, his dad ran the Manchester Futures event and he would have been hitting with top British guys Dan Evans and Liam Broady.
“Going in I was quite excited when I went, I was ready to embrace the new challenge... there’s actually eight different nationalities on our team — French, American, English, an Australian, Dutch, South African, a guy from Barbados and me.”
Matthew, whose brother Ben is one of the top under-18 players in Ulster, has responded well to the overall demands of the Davenport set-up, led by head coach Patrick Grashorn.
“Our coach is a very calm guy but he expects 100 per cent respect and if he feels he’s not getting the respect he wants then he lets you know,” added Matthew.
“One time our team had a guy disqualified and another had a warning from the umpire so he took us out and made us run for two hours — that’s the discipline you need.”
While Matthew is aiming to reach his full potential on the court, he also intends to hit top grades in his para-legal exams before heading on to law school.
“The whole experience is an amazing opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone, including my brother Ben who may look at going down the same route. I would say to any young player to try and take the long view. At home we look at the Irish junior championships at Fitzwilliam as a big deal but then you come here and nobody’s heard of Fitzwilliam. It gives you a different perspective,” he said.
“You only have to look at the new French Open women’s champion Gabrine Muguruza who was around 700 in the junior rankings and now look where she is...”