Matt, tell us a bit about yourself & how you begun your career in Tennis
I’m Matt Ebden, a Tennis Professional. I play singles, doubles and mixed doubles. I’ve been playing tennis on the world tour for about 17 years with this year being my 17th Australian Open. This year doubles (and mixed doubles at the Grand Slams) is taking over as my schedule and results have aligned with that over the last year and I haven't had much time to focus on my singles ranking so I've kind of let that go a bit. I grew up in Durban, South Africa and moved to Perth as a young teenager. As soon as I could walk, I was around the tennis club as my parents & sisters all played. I did play other sports growing up like rugby, cricket, hockey, swimming, and golf but tennis was always my passion and love which was what I wanted to go with. My goal after finishing high school was to see how good I could become; I thought I had good ability, but you never know how good you are or will be. I went professional and went on tour when I was 17-18 years old, playing really small tournaments to build up my ranking. 17 years later and it’s been fun, challenging, rewarding and long. As you go through life, no great achievements come easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world, for the places we get to visit, all the travel, people we meet and challenges we go through. It grows you into the person you become, and it becomes who you are. It’s been a fun journey so far. I hope to continue for many more years to come. I still feel I have a lot to offer of myself to the sport as an athlete.
How does it differ being a Singles & Doubles player on the court?
Singles has been my whole career; a lot of people say that ‘you don’t grow up playing just to be a doubles player’ not that there’s anything wrong with it but it’s rare. I’ve been chasing my singles title up until recently, however since we won our doubles games at the Australian Open and Wimbledon last year my schedule has drastically changed. This, as well as complications with the rankings and tournament availability during COVID meant I missed out on a lot of the singles tournaments and didn’t keep up my ranking. My skillset in singles is played in an all-court style, for those that don't know tennis very well, it's a style that's more like a Federer who is more aggressive, plays everywhere in the court and uses coming to the net a lot. Unlike a Nadal or Djokovic who play a lot further back more along and behind the baseline. That style has translated well for me in doubles as there is a big focus on returning, volleying and serving, as well as an aggressive style of play. It seemed to naturally suit doubles well, even when I was playing singles all these years, I won some titles in doubles and mixed doubles along the way. Being a singles player, the physical demand requires more cardio, stamina training and long grueling training hours, but training for doubles is different. It still requires similar hours and amounts of time, but with a shorter, more explosive and speed and agility training. I guess I always figured I would have a kind of post-singles career in doubles later and add another five or more years on to the back end of my career, so that seems to be happening quite quickly this last year.
What do you prefer, singles or doubles?
I love singles, it's been my focus my whole life, but I have always loved, enjoyed and played as much doubles as possible, even since I was a kid. The doubles side adds more of a team element in terms of training, tours, travelling and communication. Tennis as a whole is a pretty lonely and individual sport. Since I was little, competitiveness was a part of my nature with my sisters, friends and family so I was used to it. But when you get older and start to travel more, you start to miss your friends, family and loved ones. So, doubles are great from that aspect having someone to share all the travel, practices, time and matches with along with your coaches and personal teams.
What has been one of your biggest highlights & challenges you’ve faced?
The Davis Cup, it is most tennis players goals or dreams to represent their country and it was always a goal and priority to not only represent my country, but to be a great player that my country could rely on, in both singles and doubles. We were fortunate last year to make it all the way to the Davis Cup Final which was a big highlight. We will have to work on going one better in future! Another highlight is definitely winning a Grand Slam title in the mixed doubles here at the Australian Open and of course last year winning Wimbledon in the doubles. When you’re a kid you dream about winning there and even hoping to just play their one day. Making the top 40 in singles and having many wins against great players, particularly top 10 opponents definitely makes you feel like you're one of the best players in the world, which is special. One of the biggest challenges is definitely the endless travel and long flights. But don’t get me wrong I of course also love to do it and miss it when I didn’t get to travel as much during the COVID year, so I definitely want to make the most of this life while I can.
What was that feeling like to win a Grand Slam title?
It’s so hard to explain still, it doesn’t feel real. John McEnroe explained the best thing when he won back in the 80s saying ‘when you’re there it’s like an out of body experience where you’re unconscious and I feel like I could levitate and fly out of the stadium’. It was incredible experience to feel that high and adrenaline to this day, I don’t know if that feeling will ever go away.
Give us one piece of advice that you would give a young & aspiring athlete?
The things I tell some of the kids I help coach and mentor when I'm at home is how demanding the sport is and how you have to prioritise the joy and the fun of the sport – you have really got to love it. I think there’s no way you can do those volumes or loads of work of training and tournaments without going too crazy if you aren’t too passionate. That’s not say you won’t face tough times or maybe even want to quit too, over the nearly 20 years in my career so far, I’ve probably said I want to quit many times haha, that’s when you know you need to take a break and put the racket down and freshen up – you need to find a good balance.
What do you like to do in your down-time when not training or on the court?
Tennis is quite a solo sport, and quite a selfish sport. Therefore, I love going out for coffee, brunches with friends or family and also meeting new and interesting people. Education has always been important to me; I love learning about business, economics, finance and world markets and about various companies. During COVID I did a semester at Harvard and a bunch of other courses which was fun. Family-time is also big part since we have a little boy less than 1 year old, we love to spend time chilling at home in Perth along the beaches.
How would you describe your clothing style?
My mother was a sewer and still is a sewer, so she was quite into her outfits growing up, having two older sisters she would always sew them outfits even tennis clothes like dresses. She was always influencing us from a young age and coordinating outfits. Being an athlete, you need to look good for all occasions, but with travelling everywhere you can’t take too much luggage away, so you need pieces that offer functionality, particularly shoes. You want pieces that are casual enough to dress down or smart enough to dress up if you have events or functions. Overtime, my style has gravitated to be more timeless and classic.
One pair of Wild Rhinos you’re loving?
Borough, I find it to be a very versatile loafer to travel with that you can wear casually with shorts out to breakfast or wear with pants for a smart-casual event.
QUICK FIRE ROUND
Early Bird or Night Owl? Night Owl
Favourite country you’ve visited? Australia, since I was born in South Africa. I’ve been to nearly 60 countries and can't find any better than Australia. Other than that, if I'm being biased, it would be France, the south in particular.
Favourite sport after tennis? Rugby Union or Golf
Favourite Food? Asian-fusion
Introvert or Extrovert? Both