After much deliberation and plenty of fun reading, the ATP editorial team has selected four winners for the first installment of its Fan Essay Contest.
Writers aged 18 and under were challenged to write an essay of 500 words or less on the topic: ‘How has an ATP Tour player motivated or inspired you?’ The winning entries are featured below.
The Fan Essay Contest will run weekly through 27 June and writers are encouraged to keep sending essays for each new question in the competition. Thanks to all of the talented writers who entered!
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Millman: An Inspiring Australian
By Connor Joyce, 16, Melbourne, Australia
On a warm Thursday evening in Melbourne, fans began to pack into Show Court 3 ahead of a battle between the experienced Gilles Muller and homegrown Australian John Millman. Being just 12 at the time, I took a decent interest in tennis, mostly playing it and watching some of the Australian Open. On the fourth day of the 2016 major, I was purely following my father and cousin to watch this unseeded Australian, not knowing how the match would change my outlook on tennis and life.
Millman went down early, but as he always did, rallied back to lead two sets to one. Lines started to build outside the stadium as word began to spread about this true blue Australian. After an enthralling three hours and 38 minutes, the 3,000 fans in the arena and everyone waiting outside erupted as Millman took the fifth set 7-5 and reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
At the time, I was thrilled. It was and still remains the best match I have watched live. The joy on Millman’s face being shared by every single Australian in the crowd was purely unmatchable. Seeing him stay back for more than an hour after the match, signing autographs and taking photos with every fan as a ‘Millman’ chant rang out around Melbourne Park, only added to the incredible experience.
Yet, it wasn’t until later that I realised the magnitude of the victory for Millman. He’s had a tennis journey like no other.
Millman has endured shoulder and groin surgeries, back injuries and other moments stretched across 10 years where his career appeared all but over. His ranking has risen and plummeted on countless occasions and he has travelled just about everywhere on the planet, from the bright lights of New York to the depths of Gimcheon.
After years of ATP Challenger Tour matches and qualifying rounds in majors, that Thursday was the moment Millman’s career finally took a turn for good. It was a true story of perseverance and commitment on display as a local hero had his name being sung repeatedly by his growing fanbase.
This match made me love tennis. It’s an individual sport, but there is no better feeling than triumphing in front of a home crowd who have stuck by you for almost four hours. I have spent countless hours and days at the Australian Open since, but have yet to witness a moment come anywhere close to the storyline of this one.
This match led me to become the biggest Millman fan going and has inspired me more generally to never give up on your dreams. In life, you will be knocked down time and time again. But it is those who are determined, those who possess the Millman attitude, that will come out on top in the end.
My Journey With Djokovic
By Pham Tan That, 16, Nam Dinh City, Vietnam
Retracing back to the days when I was only a five- year-old kid, I was sitting in front of my family’s tiny 14-inch TV, subconsciously watching the green ball being hit back and forth. During that match, the name Novak Djokovic was reiterated to such an extent that it stuck in my young mind. Eventually, this cool Serbian guy exerted an influential leverage over my life.
Needless to say, Djokovic is one of the most successful tennis players in history. From his trophy cabinet to his record prize money, everything leads to a firm affirmation of his dominance on the ATP Tour. As a student in an extremely harsh academic environment like Vietnam, where everyone aspires to the top, Djokovic has inspired me with his tenacity and a burning fire to become the unassailable.
Is it only pure luck that tided him over exhausting five-hour matches against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open final, Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round of the 2013 Australian Open, or his hard-fought battle with Roger Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final?
Perhaps it plays a part, but for a such great player like Djokovic, what has gotten him over the line is his innate persistence, mental toughness and insatiable craving for preeminence. With 79 tour-level titles, including 17 Grand Slam titles, and 282 weeks at No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, these resplendent accomplishments make a real statement about his grandeur that motivates me to try my best at school and become the best student in the class.
But life is never too rosy and Djokovic faced a major setback in 2017 that could have put his career to an end. But despite nagging injuries and inconsistent results, he overcame it all and pulled off one of the most impressive comebacks in 2018 by winning Wimbledon and the US Open. Other notable results ensued and he concluded 2018 as year-end No. 1, won two Grand Slams in 2019 and currently holds an 18-match winning streak.
I do find a connection between me and him because I had high expectations from my teachers and then unexpected failures cropped up, which critically undermined my confidence and aroused self- doubt inside me. But my teacher has taught me the flower that blooms in the face of adversities is the rarest and most beautiful. I find Djokovic to be the perfect illustration for this. His return refuels my stamina whenever I break down. Instead of crying or lamenting, I see failures as opportunities to better myself. I try to look on the bright side and keep believing in myself.
Djokovic is a model person whom I really look up to. Though it is almost impossible to meet him in person, following his milestones is already enough to give me motivation and inspiration to become the best version of myself.
Standing Next To Federer
By Yashas Yallapragada, 13, Hyderabad, India
On an August evening seven years ago, I didn’t think I would actually have the opportunity of standing next to a god: a 20-time grand slam champion and the greatest person to ever hold a tennis racquet. My hero, my idol and my inspiration, Roger Federer.
Since I was only six years old, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the moment when I first met Roger. I was very happy, but didn’t really understand how much the photo or autograph was worth. People were surrounding me and telling me how lucky I was.
Every August, I would travel from Houston to Cincinnati to see and meet my hero. He would always smile to me and was always very friendly. He would make me feel like I’m family. But the most amazing thing was that he would remember me! He would recognise and greet me every year.
There are two ways in which Federer inspired me: his character and his game.
Firstly, as I got older watching Roger’s game, personality and behavior, my respect grew for him. I got so inspired by him that my game style is also a one-handed backhand with an eastern forehand. I find Roger’s game so unique and special. When you see his game, he makes it look so easy and elegant. But to be frank, it’s probably the hardest game style to master on the Tour. To hit every forehand with an eastern grip and a straight arm, you need to have exceptional footwork and great timing.
When you face Djokovic or Nadal, who shrink the court with exceptional defence and drain you by making you fight for each point, you have to go for the lines. But when you face Federer, who gives you no time and puts you in positions you don’t like to play in, it looks like you don’t know how to play tennis. He motivated me to play that kind of game and I also aspire to become a professional tennis player one day.
Secondly, when you look at the type of human being Roger is, you learn to stay humble, be a good sport, remain mentally stable in all situations, be grateful towards others and have time for them.
I remember Roger used to be so friendly with everyone by giving hugs to old women at their request or asking fans question. This inspired me a lot.
Another thing that motivated me to be like him was his sportsmanship. Winning the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for a record 13 times is no joke. Watching him on TV after a loss and seeing him still have a smiling face taught me how to handle losses.
I’ve experienced so many moments in life when I saw Roger and got inspired.
The Passion Of Estrella Burgos
By Brian Zhu, 15, Poughkeepsie, New York
There’s no question that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal inspire me, but I want to give recognition to a man that is not as well known and has motivated me to work hard every day.
Victor Estrella Burgos, a tennis player from the Dominican Republic, has inspired me on and off the court. His story is incredible as he defied the odds to become the first player from his country to reach the Top 100. In the Dominican Republic, baseball is the main sport and tennis is only an afterthought. He started tennis without a coach and copied other people from his club in order to learn how to play tennis.
Estrella Burgos eventually turned pro in 2002, but could not financially support his career. But when he went to be a hitting partner for the Puerto Rican Fed Cup team, he got a sponsorship and returned to professional tennis in 2006. He won his first ATP Challenger Tour title in 2011, but then tragedy struck. In 2012, Estrella Burgos got injured and could not play for six months. He contemplated retiring, but kept playing and did not give up.
Learning about this made me realise that even when there are challenges in my life, I must keep persisting and working hard. He won his first ATP Tour title in 2015 Quito, at age 34, and this made him the oldest first-time ATP Tour winner. Miraculously, Estrella Burgos was able to defend his title in 2016 and 2017. I find this incredible as most tennis players are ready to retire at that age, but Estrella Burgos was still winning titles. Estrella Burgos always had a dream and, even after numerous setbacks, never stopped until he reached his goal.
Many people can have dreams, but to be keep persisting even when things are tough is incredibly hard. Estrella Burgos was tenacious enough to do this, which motivates me to persevere and fulfill my goals in life. Even in the toughest moments, he was able to keep moving forward.
Whenever I feel like I’m going to give up, I can always look to Estrella Burgos and see the obstacles he had to overcome in order to achieve his dream. He showed me that an athlete in any sport can still defy the odds if he or she perseveres. His time on the ATP Tour taught me that I need to follow my dream no matter what and to not be discouraged when life does not go the way I want. Estrella Burgos put his heart and soul into tennis and I hope that will be able to have as much passion as he did in whatever I do.