Smyczek's tennis career heading in right direction
Former Brookfield Academy star recalls memorable US Open
Two months later, Tim Smyczek can still hear the chants.
It was the third round of the US Open. It was Labor Day weekend. A berth into the Round of 16 and a matchup with top-ranked Novak Djokovic was on the line. And to top it off, Smyczek, the former Brookfield Academy tennis star, was the last American man standing.
It was the furthest the 2002 WIAA Division 2 state champion had gotten in a Grand Slam tournament.
"It was definitely a milestone for me, and it was a pretty cool situation being the last American in the field," said Smyczek, when reached by phone following a recent practice session as he was preparing for a tournament in Charlottesville, Va. "It was an amazing atmosphere. The fans were packed, and all of the support was really neat. I have never played Davis Cup, but I have to imagine it was a little something like that. They were all pulling for me."
And it appeared Smyczek, whose parents were in the stands, and the boisterous New York City crowd would be celebrating well into the night.
Unfortunately, despite leading, 4-1, in the fifth and deciding set against Marcel Granollers, Smyczek could not close out the Spaniard.
"I didn't once feel tired," despite having just gutted out a five-set win the previous round, he said. "It would have been impossible to with so much adrenaline. To his credit, I don't feel like my level dropped. (Granollers) really raised his game and came up with some unbelievable shots. While I was pretty heartbroken at the time, I'm not losing any sleep over it because there wasn't a whole lot I did wrong tactically."
Despite it being a loss, Smyczek said, it's the moment that ranks No. 1 in his career.
"It was a night match, and being on the Grandstand (court) made it really special," Smyczek said.
While Smyczek was the headliner on this night, tennis can be a fleeting and unforgiving sport.
Especially when you've spent much of your career playing in Futures and Challengers events trying to make that arduous climb up the rankings.
"It has been back to the grind," said Smyczek, who was 10-3 in post-US Open matches before falling in the first round of last week's Charlottesville tournament despite being the top seed. "I'm real happy with how I've continued to play. It's just that next stage of establishing myself as a top 100 player and see how far I can get."
Making it this far and having his 2013 US Open moment hasn't been easy.
After winning state a decade ago as a high school freshman, Smyczek began traveling more to tournaments around the country and world. After missing 90 days of school his sophomore year at Brookfield Academy, he decided the best decision would be to move to Florida, where the weather and training would be more conducive to working on his tennis game.
"The BA staff was very supportive of my tennis and were happy for me to keep doing that," said Smyczek, whose older brother, Alec, and younger sister, Lauren, also were successful high school tennis players at Brookfield Academy. "But it was hard to get enough tennis in Milwaukee."
His mom moved to Tampa, Fla., with him for a couple years, and Smyczek continued to play in tournaments as an amateur. He turned pro in 2006 but barely won enough prize money his first few years to survive on tour.
"When you don't have a lot of success the first three years on tour, it's real easy to hang it up — and who knows, that might have been the right choice," Smyczek admitted. "It's a hard decision, especially when you don't have good results. Thankfully, I stuck with it."
Smyczek said it took a few years to just break even financially.
"My parents were very helpful, but you do see guys hang it up because they aren't making money and can't afford it," Smyczek said.
Wins, however, gradually started to come for the 5-foot-9 Smyczek, and he got into some main draws.
After having his best year in 2012 and finally winning a round at the US Open when he was ranked 179th in the world, his confidence grew going into the 2013 Australian Open, the first major of the year.
He won his first-round match there before falling to the No. 4-ranked player in the world, David Ferrer, in four sets.
"I was playing really well, and playing against Ferrer was a great experience," Smyczek said. "I hit a little lull during the clay court and grass court season.
"But during the summer I was knocking at the door. I felt if I kept doing things the right way I had a shot to make a run."
Looking to move up
He made this run but knows there's more challenges as he enters the next phase of his career.
Smyczek, who is 82nd in the world rankings, said his goal for 2014 is to break into the top 50.
"That's the next logical milestone," he said. "Outside of that, I'd like to cement myself as a top-100 player."
He's confident in his preparation to take that next step.
"I'm not a young player anymore, but I feel like I have a lot more tennis in me," Smyczek, 25, said. "I don't think I've reached my ceiling.
"I think for me, physically, I have developed later than (other) players and my game has developed at a difference pace. I'm going to model my game after players like Mardy Fish, who has really had a second career."
Smyczek lives in Tampa with fellow American tennis star John Isner, but he will return to southeastern Wisconsin in early December for a charity event called "Serves for Summit" with three other professional players. All the proceeds will go to the Summit Educational Association in Milwaukee. Smyczek and Isner took part in the benefit in 2010.
"It should be an exciting time, and I'm really looking forward to it," Smyczek said.
Just as he is the rest of his career.
"I was just the biggest tennis fan growing up and think around the time I was 15 or 16 I started to do well in tournaments and the possibility of turning pro presented itself," Smyczek said. "I always dreamed about it."
Just the facts
WHO: Tim Smyczek
CAREER: professional tennis player
BACKGROUND: 2002 Division 2 state champion at Brookfield Academy
TOP MOMENT: advancing to the third round of the 2013 US Open
COMING HOME: Smyczek will take part in a benefit event called "Serves for Summit" to raise money for the Summit Educational Association in Milwaukee, an organization his uncle leads. There will be a reception and dinner at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Hilton City Center Hotel. A professional tennis exhibition will take place the next day at Wisconsin Lutheran College's REX Fieldhouse. For information about the event and to purchase tickets, visit TimSmyczekTennis.com.
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