Australia, 23 August 2023 | Leigh Rogers

Steve Smith is an Australian cricket legend and regarded as one of the best batsmen in the world.

The former Australian captain reached 14,000 runs in international cricket faster than any other Aussie player in history.

He is a four-time winner of the Allan Border Medal, which is awarded annually to Australia’s best cricketer, and is the only player to win the International Cricket Council’s Test Player of the Year Award more than once.

Smith recently helped Australia retain the prestigious Ashes against England, where he managed to fit in a visit to Wimbledon between test appearances.

In our Celebrity Match series, Smith shares his favourite tennis memories …

Tell us about your tennis experience. Do you play often?

I used to play as a kid, up until I was 15. I played reasonably competitively, but then obviously cricket took over. I still love playing tennis when I get the opportunity. So whenever I don’t have any injury niggles, I’ll try to get out and play. During the COVID lockdowns, when tennis was one of the things you could still do, I was out playing four days a week, three hours at a time. I absolutely loved it and really got back into it.

How did you go managing playing both tennis and cricket growing up?

Tennis was my winter sport. But even in summer when I wasn’t playing cricket after school, I’d be at the tennis courts hitting with my old man or some mates. I just really enjoyed the game and I think it has actually helped me in cricket too. It taught me how to solve problems against opponents. My grip on the cricket bat is actually quite similar to how I hold my tennis racquet too.

What is your best shot on the tennis court?

My forehand. My backhand is pretty ordinary to be fair, particularly when I haven’t played a lot. My backhand’s probably the last thing that sort of comes back to me.

What surface did you grow up playing tennis on?

Hard courts and also a bit of synthetic grass with sand. I didn’t play on actual grass until during the COVID lockdowns. I had a couple of hits down on the grass at White City in Sydney, which was a cool experience. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s given me a deeper admiration for the players that do well at Wimbledon. Your footwork has to be so precise on grass. The ball can change course quickly, because the court is not as even as all the other surfaces.

What is your favourite tennis memory?

My favourite tennis memory is watching the Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer final at Australian Open 2017. I wasn’t at the game, but watched it all on television. It was such a big moment. Roger had been facing a few injuries and was coming towards the end of his career, no-one was sure how long he was going to carry on playing. To see Roger win in five sets was amazing.

Who is your favourite player?

Roger was my childhood hero growing up. He was someone that I loved watching play. I had the opportunity to meet him a few years back as well. He is a lovely guy and what you see is what you get with him.

When and how did you meet Roger?

He was playing at a Fast 4 tournament at Sydney in 2015 against Lleyton Hewitt, who I also admired growing up as well. My manager knew I loved them both, so got onto Lleyton’s people and organised a dinner before they played. So my wife Dani and I went out with both Roger and Lleyton and were able to have a chat over dinner. It was a great experience.

Steve Smith with wife, Dani, at the Australian Open.

Is there any tennis player that you haven’t met yet, but would love the opportunity to do so?

I’d say Carlos Alcaraz. I heard about him probably three or four years ago from John Millman, who told me he was the next big up-and-coming player. So I’ve been tracking his progress since and to watch him go out and beat Novak Djokovic in a Wimbledon final was just incredible. I’m in awe of the way he moves across the court.

I actually got to see him play live at Wimbledon this year, when he beat Holger Rune in the quarterfinals. I was speaking to a few people there who told me his game management and his mind for such a young player is just incredible. They told me it was probably better than what Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic were at the same age. So I’d love to meet him and pick his brain around a few things, especially on his mentality.

Was this the first time you had attended Wimbledon?

No, my first visit to Wimbledon was in 2015. I saw Dustin Brown beat Rafael Nadal in the second round. That was the first professional match I watched live.

So you attended Wimbledon before the Australian Open?

Yeah, I’m pretty sure I did. I’ve obviously been out to the Australian Open a couple of times since and it’s always such a great experience. The vibe of the whole precinct is amazing and I’ve had some great experiences watching matches at Rod Laver Arena.

In 2017, you hit with Canadian player Milos Raonic at Melbourne Park. Can you tell us about that experience?

We’re both New Balance athletes, so the team at New Balance organised that. At that stage, he was one of the biggest servers on the tour. I told him ‘I really want to face one of your proper serves. I want to see what it’s like’.

I’d never played anyone who served even close to how he could, so I stood right on the baseline for the first one and it hit me in the chest. His serve was coming at some serious pace. I quickly learned I should stand back a few steps and I managed to get one of them back. It’s pretty cool to watch guys that can generate that kind of pace.

Steve Smith happily swapped a cricket bat for a tennis racquet when he got the chance to hit with then world No.24 Milos Raonic at Melbourne Park in 2017. Picture: Getty Images

Will we see you at the Australian Open again in 2024?

Hopefully, if time permits. It always depends on my schedule and what is going on with cricket. But if I get the opportunity, I’d love to come back down again. I love watching tennis there, it’s such a cool event. The atmosphere is great and it’s fun to just walk around the park and see everything that is going on.

Finally, can you please finish these sentences for us …

The best part of the Australian Open is … I love watching the professional players figure out different ways to go about playing their opponents. It’s a really mental game and if you’re mentally off, a match can turn so quickly. The top players are just so mentally strong.

Tennis is fun because … it’s a great way to be active. It’s great for fitness, particularly when you’re playing singles and you’re up against one other opponent. I love the art of trying to understand what they’re trying to do and solving problems out there by yourself. Doubles is great as well. You’re not moving around quite as much, so it’s a game you can play until you’re pretty old.

> Read more interviews from our Celebrity Match series

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