Ambitious Ebden aiming high in 2013
Having achieved a bundle of career firsts in 2012, Matt Ebden tells tennis.com.au that he is looking ahead to even bigger things in the new year.
It’s been a big 12 months for Matt Ebden. Following on from the 2011 season in which he cracked the top 100, the West Australian’s self-described “solidifying” year in 2012 saw him peak at a career-high ranking of No.61, contest the main draw at all Grand Slam tournaments for the first time in one season, and make a winning Davis Cup debut.
In November he got married to long-time girlfriend Kim Doig, and a month later signed on to work with new coach Peter McNamara, the former Aussie pro who reached the top 10 in both singles and doubles and who will travel with Ebden for 30 weeks throughout 2013.
Counter-intuitively, after so many breakthroughs and milestones, the recently-turned 25-year-old actually finds himself ranked lower than at this time last year. But looking more closely at the stats, Ebden believes there were still plenty of positives to be drawn from his first full season of tour-level events.
“(Finishing 2011 ranked No.86) gave me a real chance to (enter) the top tournaments week in, week out. And I did that – I played only the Masters, the Grand Slams, the tour events. I didn’t drop down and play any Challengers or lower tournaments,” he explained in a recent interview with tennis.com.au.
“To finish at 100 (he is currently ranked No.105) making all my points against guys ranked in the top 100 or top 50 and above, every single match, is not such a bad outcome. I won 17 tour-level matches through the year (including two in Davis Cup play), and that’s equivalent to some guys who finished in the top 50, who played maybe four or five challenger events and banked up a lot of points that way.
“Obviously I would have liked to finish quite a lot higher than I did, but that’s OK. I’m in the Australian Open.”
Seventeen tour-level wins during 2012 is exactly the same figure as new Australian No.1 Marinko Matosevic, who burst into the top 50 in October and is currently sitting at world No.49. Cracking this elite bracket is a goal of Ebden’s, who believes he is well positioned to make such a move in the first four months of next season.
This is the time of hardcourt tennis, a surface that suits the 25-year-old’s big serve, aggressive game, consistency and dynamic movement. He’ll begin his campaign at Brisbane, where tournament organisers have given him a wildcard to compete in the main draw, before aiming to contest the remainder of the events of the Aussie summer. He’ll make himself available for Davis Cup before next heading to America for the spring hardcourt events of late February and March.
“I was as high as 60 a couple of months ago, so I know what it’s like to be there and I know what sort of level you need to get there,” he said.
“I really want to go for it and put myself on the line and do as much work as it requires and more, because that’s what it takes.”
Central to this campaign will be McNamara. Ebden had begun looking for a coach as far back as Wimbledon in July, appreciative of and grateful for his work with previous coaches but feeling the need to inject a new voice into the mix. Keen to begin working with a new coach in the lead-up to the Australian summer season, McNamara had the ingredients he felt were necessary to take his game to the next level.
“I called him up in November and he was quite keen to work with me as well and he was excited to get on court and start working,” Ebden recalled.
“The reason I hand-picked him was because he brings a wealth of experience, he’s been top 10 in singles and doubles, and that’s a career I have goals to emulate myself … he’s been there and done it before, he knows what it takes. Along with that he brings a degree of real discipline, and I really value that. He takes pride in what he does and the people he works with … I was looking for a real commitment and someone who believed in me and what we could do.”
The ambitious and driven 25-year-old understands there is still plenty to do to maximise his potential. One is improving his strength, endurance and fitness, cornerstones to success in the modern men’s game. And while 2012 provided its fair share of highlights – a run to the fourth round at the Indian Wells Masters as a qualifier (defeating then-No.8 Mardy Fish en route) and wins in the first round of the Australian and US Opens – there were also some lean periods, including the fact he went winless on clay.
Ebden sustained a foot injury that hampered his form during the grasscourt season. And injury management is something the right-hander – who played 30 tournaments and three Davis Cup ties in 2012 – will be keen to stay on top of next season. He is exploring options for securing a base in the United States, closer to the North American and European tour events which form the bulk of the tennis calendar. This will allow him to streamline his schedule and factor in more breaks to allow for training, preparation, rest and recovery.
But before any of that is finalised, the immediate focus is the Australian summer of tennis.
Ebden has been preparing in Melbourne since November, relishing the benefits afforded to local players to acclimatise to the heat, sun and playing conditions that characterise the Australian Open while Northern Hemisphere players shiver through a bitter winter.
And while talk often surrounds the pressure that faces Australian players at their home Grand Slam in January, Ebden sees it as a enormous advantage.
“I made my first (career) break through the lower-level tournaments in Australia. I love the conditions here. I love the fans – they really get behind you well. You feel it when you’re playing a local player overseas how much the crowd lift them and how tough it is to play against that so when we’re here, we know we have that for us,” he said.
“I’ve probably played some of my best tennis in Australia. There’s always bits of pressure, but it depends how you look at it – for me, I think, what could be better?”