Christopher Eubanks: From Winning Has Come A Sense Of Believing In Himself

Christopher Eubanks (photo: Dustin Satlokk/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Christopher Eubanks has always had the talent to excel on the tennis court.

He just had to believe in himself.

Two years ago at the US Open, Eubanks, then a young, stringy player ranked 214th faced Frances Tiafoe, who was well on his way to becoming a Top-10 player. The fans who filled Court 17 on Opening Night at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center were in a good, spirited mood cheering wildly for both players. The two Americans felt their love and put on an entertaining show. Tiafoe won the contentious first-round match, 7-6 (8), 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. When they met at the net for what appeared to be a frosty post-match handshake, Eubanks heard an earful from Tiafoe – but the exchange wasn’t what you might have expected.

“I’ll never forget,” Eubanks shared with Tennis TourTalk and a small group of other  reporters, who were present earlier this week for the Mubadala Citi DC Open Media Day at Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the first-of-its-kind ATP/WTA 500 combined event is taking place. “His words to me were: ‘Chris, you’re top 100,'” Eubanks recalled. “‘Bro, you’re top 100. You’re top 100!'”

While Eubanks wasn’t hearing any of it in the heat of the moment from Tiafoe, the Maryland native was on to something. He wanted to pump up Eubanks. But the Georgian, who starred at Georgia Tech before turning pro in 2017, all but brushed him off. It was simply the competitiveness in Eubanks that everyone saw that summer evening two years ago. “It was all love,” Eubanks said, flashing a big smile.

“I think it’s belief, honestly,” said the World No. 10 Tiafoe, who was ranked 50th  two years ago when he played Eubanks for the first time. “He’s taking it much more seriously, being much more professional. You know, he’s doing all the little things … [that] creates big results.”

Fast forward, and after toiling on the ATP Challenger Tour and, earlier this season, moonlighting as a TV match analyst for Tennis Channel – which he said gave him new insights into the game and remains something he might pursue more of in the future – Eubanks, 27, won his first ATP Tour-level title earlier this summer on grass at the Mallorca Championships in Spain. It enabled him to crack the ATP Top 50 at No. 43. Then, the real game-changing moment in Eubanks’ life happened: he made a quarterfinal run at the Wimbledon Championships, stringing together four impressive victories that turned heads and rewarded him with not only with the biggest prize-money payout of his career but also an even better world ranking (No. 31).

“For me, the confidence comes from the preparation more so than just how I’m feeling on that day, and I think that’s a change for me,” Eubanks said. “Earlier in my career, it was more so predicted on whether or not I was winning or losing leading into it to determine how confident I would be. Now, it’s more about: Have I prepared properly? Did I get enough sleep? Did I spend enough time on the practice court as I needed to, to get my body taken care of as much as I needed to? … I had to learn: I couldn’t allow my confidence to suffer based on winning or losing. It was more to do on the preparation side.”

“Nothing in his game changed at all,” said Women’s World No. 7 Coco Gauff, a close friend of Eubanks whom she looks up to like an older brother. “Literally nothing. Maybe the decisions he made changed, but his forehand didn’t get better, his serve didn’t get better. He literally just believed more in his game.”

While physical tools alone don’t make for a champion, belief in oneself can make a huge difference. “Unless you believe it, it doesn’t really matter,” Tiafoe said of Eubanks. “Now, he’s believing it, and I hope he continues to do so. I don’t think it’s a fluke thing. I don’t believe in flukes. I think if you do something at this level, the highest level, you can definitely repeat it. Hopefully, this is the Chris Eubanks we get used to.”

With Eubanks’s new-found attention, thanks largely to his Wimbledon success — which also translated into making appearances on all the U.S. morning infotainment shows — he has learned how to juggle everything happening to him on and off the court. After all, fame has its pluses and minuses.

“I have had to learn, I think, how to say no, which is tougher now, because in the past, maybe I come off the court [and] maybe four, five kids want a picture and I can kind of go about my day,” Eubanks explained. “It’s not really a need to say no. But now, it’s like: “No, guys. I have a schedule. I can’t stick around 30 minutes to sign.’ So, I sign a few, and you kind of keep going. I’m always apologizing, saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.'”

Meanwhile, Eubanks has been a popular presence throughout the week at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in northwest Washington, whether drawing big crowds to his practices with Ben Shelton and Tiafoe or his matches. On Monday, he and Tiafoe were on opposite sides of the net facing each other in doubles (Tiafoe and Hubert Hukacz prevailed over Eubanks and Sebastian Korda) that packed the intimate Grandstand Court. He was back on the same court Wednesday afternoon for his first singles match against Japan’s Sho Shimabukuro, which he won 6-3, 6-4 for his 19th win of the season, in back of 11 powerful aces and 28 winners.

On Thursday, the 29th-ranked Eubanks will attempt to reach his fourth straight quarterfinal and fifth of the season against No. 71 Jordan Thompson of Australia on the larger John Harris Court. He is 12-2 in his last four tournaments and ranked a career-high No. 29 this week. Win or lose, he has gained a new appreciation for a sense of self-belief and confidence in his own abilities.

“You walk out on the court, one or two things are going to happen,” said Eubanks, who two years after his memorable 2021 tussle against Tiafoe at the US Open will be seeded at the season’s last major. “You’re either going to win or you’re going to lose. Some of that is out of control, because you can play somebody who just plays too good. …

“If I walk on the court and feel like I prepared properly and it doesn’t go my way, I think I’m a lot better equipped to handle that now than I did years ago because I felt like it was the worst thing in the world.

“That’s just how I do it. I try to prepare properly and let the rest take care of itself.”