Christopher Eubanks stood by the microphone on No. 2 Court as 4,000 spectators crammed in the stands, watched.
“You’ve just beaten your first top-5 player, you’re on debut here at Wimbledon, and now you’re in your first ever Grand Slam quarterfinal,” Jenny Drummond, the on-court reporter, said to Eubanks before the stadium erupted in applause. “Are you living your best life right now?”
Eubanks didn’t hesitate. “I feel like I’m living a dream right now,” he said.
At the start of the grass season last month, Eubanks had never won an ATP title, had never played in the main draw at Wimbledon and had never advanced past the second round at a major. In fact, Eubanks didn’t even like playing on the surface.
It’s so unexpected, even to him, that he has extended his hotel reservation three times during his stay.
The 27-year-old Eubanks is now the 13th man in the Open Era to reach the final eight in his main draw debut at Wimbledon, and the first American man to do so since 1984. He’s also the third Black American man to reach that round, joining Arthur Ashe and MaliVai Washington on what would have been Ashe’s 80th birthday.
On June 26, Eubanks was ranked No. 77 in the world, just a few places shy of his career-high mark. Now he’s No. 43, and is expected to rise to at least No. 31 in next week’s rankings.
“Everything from realizing that I have two credentials at Wimbledon for the rest of my life [as part of Wimbledon’s ‘Last 8 Club‘], to checking my phone and seeing my name as an ESPN alert, to realizing how much I disliked grass at the beginning of the grass-court season, to now look at where I am,” Eubanks said on Monday evening. “It’s been something that you dream about. But I think for me I didn’t really know if that dream would actually come true. I’m sitting here in it now, so it’s pretty cool.”
Eubanks wasn’t being humble when he said he was uncertain his dreams in the sport would ever come true.
Unlike many of his peers, he wasn’t a top-ranked junior player. He played a few events, but none of the Slams and was largely unheralded during the college recruiting process. Ultimately, thanks in part to his mentor Donald Young, an Atlanta native who was a top-100 ATP player at the time, Eubanks caught the attention of the coaching staff at Georgia Tech.
Head coach Kenny Thorne wasn’t sure if he should send down his then-assistant coach Derek Schwandt (now the head coach at Liberty), to watch Eubanks play at a tournament in Mobile, Alabama. But as they were driving down to Florida to watch a top recruit play, they found themselves thinking about what Young had said about him and decided Schwandt should go to Alabama instead to give Eubanks a look.
“Derek sent me a video of one of Chris’ first serves and the ball literally hit the fence in front of Derek and almost went through the fence,” Thorne told ESPN on Monday. “And it was so high on the fence, I was like, ‘Please tell me that was Chris. Please.’ He goes, ‘That’s him.’ I asked for more videos immediately.
“Chris wasn’t ranked that high but he got to the final of that tournament. And then he was getting ready to play at one of the biggest national tournaments so I went out to watch him practice and right there I said, ‘We have to bring him in (for an unofficial recruiting visit) before he goes to this big tournament and everyone else sees just how talented he is.’ We just saw then what a special player and person he was.”
During his three seasons at Georgia Tech, Eubanks was twice named the ACC Player of the Year and was a two-time All American. He turned pro ahead of his senior season in 2017.
While an increasing number of players on both the ATP and WTA tours have competed collegiately, including Cameron Norrie, Jennifer Brady and Danielle Collins, it’s still somewhat unconventional, and success at the NCAA level doesn’t always translate in the pros.
For most of Eubanks’ first five seasons, he largely played lower-tier Futures and Challengers events. He played in front of small crowds for little money and few ranking points, a grind week in and week out.
He cracked the top 200 in 2018, but the milestone meant little. He still needed to receive a wild card, or to successfully come through qualifying, to play at majors, and the ranking made it even more unlikely he could play in ATP events. Prior to the start of the 2023 season, he had played in six Grand Slam events and only a handful of ATP tournaments. Disappointed about the state of his career, Eubanks began doing part-time commentary for the Tennis Channel.
“There were definitely some low moments,” Eubanks said last week. “I think that part of the reason I even got into commentary was because I had a real sit-down with my agent in 2021 and I said, ‘Listen, if I’m still 200 by next year and injuries haven’t played a part, I can do something else with my time.’ Like, it’s not that glamorous if you’re ranked around 200.”
But while he enjoyed his television work, he didn’t give up on his on-court aspirations.
According to Martin Blackman, the general manager of player development for the USTA, Eubanks knew he needed to make a change in order to get to the next level, then took a risk and gambled on himself.
“About two-and-a-half years ago, when he wasn’t inside the top 100, he made the decision to hire a full-time coach [Ruan Roelofse],” Blackman said on Monday. “Lots of times when guys haven’t broken in and aren’t making the big money, they don’t invest in themselves because the money’s tight and there’s a trade-off — do I invest in myself, whether it’s a coach or strength and conditioning or physio and take a chance and maybe running out of money down the road? Or do I save it, but then I’m not doing everything that I need to do? And Chris has really gone all-in, taking care of all the controllables on and off the court.”
That decision has made a difference.
Working with Roelofse, Eubanks has made subtle changes and improvements to his game, and added muscle to his lanky 6-foot-7 frame. “I know people say he’s skinny, but he is huge compared to what he was in college,” Thorne said.
Eubanks won his first major main draw match at the US Open last year and has made steady progress since. There was a second-round appearance at the Australian Open in January and, in what was then the biggest breakthrough of his career, a quarterfinal appearance at the Masters 1000-level Miami Open as a qualifier. The result propelled him into the top 100 for the first time in his career.
He cried with emotion after securing the milestone ranking. “Out of everybody in the world that plays tennis at some point, in some week in the world, you were one of the best 100 tennis players in the world,” Eubanks said at the time. “In the world. Like, there’s a lot of people that play tennis. A lot of people. And it’s like, I’m sitting here as one of the top 100 best people to do it — one of the best players to do it right now. It feels good.”
But it’s been the grass season where he’s had a meteoric rise. He famously reached out to four-time major champion Kim Clijsters for advice on how to play on the “stupidest” surface via text message while playing in his first grass tournament of the year at Surbiton, and she encouraged him to work on his footwork and stay positive.
How it started vs. How it’s going
— Christopher Eubanks (@chris_eubanks96) July 1, 2023
He didn’t win his next two tournaments, but he then took home his maiden ATP trophy at Mallorca and his momentum has yet to slow. No opponent or moment has seemed too big for Eubanks so far. He defeated the No. 1 British player and 2022 semifinalist Norrie in the second round in front of a lively crowd on Court No. 1 and made believers and fans out of many.
“The Norrie match was massive,” Blackman said. “To beat not only a Brit at Wimbledon, on that court, but a great player who wanted more than anything to do well in front of that crowd. That showed a lot of character and was a real turning point.”
And, perhaps most impressively, there was no emotional hangover for Eubanks in his third-round match the very next day. He needed three tiebreaks but managed to dispatch Christopher O’Connell in straight sets on Saturday. Against Tsitsipas on Monday, he thrived in the ever-growing spotlight and held his nerve in a more than three-hour battle.
Thorne streamed the match on his phone from the stands of a junior tournament. He moved inside to watch on a bigger screen for the fifth set because he simply could no longer focus on anything else. He said everyone in the clubhouse was cheering by the end. Blackman watched from the stands. Coco Gauff, a longtime friend, and her parents were also in the crowd to show their support, with Gauff proudly filming his post-match interview.
“I think everyone, from other players to fans, recognizes his hard work and they recognize his joy,” Blackman said. “When he plays a great point, you’re going to see the smile. And not only when he wins the point. Sometimes it’ll be a great point and he’ll lose the point, but you see the joy that he has being on the court doing what he loves to do. That’s infectious.”
Eubanks is now riding a nine-match winning streak with his confidence growing by the match. Monday marked the biggest win of his career, but that could change on Wednesday against No. 3 seed and 2021 US Open champion Daniil Medvedev with a chance to reach the semifinals. Eubanks isn’t favored to win, but he wasn’t when he faced Norrie or Tsitsipas either.
Regardless of what happens on Wednesday, he will leave London with his best major result, the biggest paycheck of his career totaling at least $437,852, and a new career-high ranking. And all of that translates to a new degree of freedom he’s never experienced as a professional tennis player. For the better part of the next year, he will be able to play at any tournament he wants thanks to his ranking and won’t have to worry about financing his career. He could even be seeded at the US Open, which would mean he wouldn’t face another top-32 player until at least the third round.
But more than anything, Eubanks has found a self-belief over the past few weeks that he lacked before. “For a long time I questioned whether or not I was consistent enough to play at this level really consistently,” Eubanks said. “I knew I could come out on any match and maybe light it up, could cause some guys some trouble. I don’t know if I really believed I could put it together match after match after match against quality opponents.
“That’s something Coco has been telling me for a long time. Naomi [Osaka] even says the same thing. That’s kind of been the main thing of just reinforcing and instilling confidence, ‘Hey, you can play at this level, you just got to believe it.’ When I’m around them, to hear them talk about their belief, it’s a bit infectious … I think it’s slowly starting to rub off on me where when I step foot on the court, ‘Hey, I can play at this level. I belong at this level.'”