Jason Kubler - Tennis - PlayersVoice
Jason Kubler - Tennis - PlayersVoice

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14 cents in my bank account

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14 cents in my bank account

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My bank balance last year got down to 14 cents. I’m going to get a tattoo, I don’t know where yet, that says 0.14, just to remind myself how low I’ve been.

 

I’d been playing a lot of Futures in Europe on clay. I was qualifying every week and winning a few rounds, made a semi, so I was doing OK but I lost a lot of money on that trip and then, when I got back home, I didn’t do anything for three weeks.

 

In juniors, I’d been No.1 in the world. There was the whole ‘right-handed Nadal’ thing happening after Junior Davis Cup, and I had sponsors and made money pretty easily. I’d gone from that to, ‘What am I doing now? I’m at home, my mum has to cook my meals because I don’t have any money and I don’t want to go out, because I’m just pretty sad’.

 

It was a weird situation because when I was a junior, things would come to me. It was a different experience to have to ask people, to put myself out there, to say, ‘I’m available to do any sort of hitting and that sort of stuff’. It was so stressful.

 

I did that for about three months and I still only had 14 cents in my account. What little cash I had was in a money box because I wanted to be able to actually see it.

 

As a junior, when I was getting a little bit of money I didn’t really understand its worth. But now I do. I know how far $100 can stretch.

 

 

 

FAMILY TRAGEDY, DODGY KNEES

My dad died of cancer when I was eight. Obviously, it was a very bad situation. I hope this doesn’t sound awful but I think it affected my family – especially my older brother and mum – more than it did me.

 

Until then, mum had just been staying home looking after us. She had to go back to work and start doing some ‘not-fun jobs’, as I’d call them. Like cleaning. Not things that you’d want to do.

 

It was almost better that I was younger because, emotionally, that shielded me a little bit. But sometimes, even now, I wish I had someone pushing me in the right direction because it’s tough going through life without the guidance of someone who’s experienced it before.

 

I do lean on the coaches I work with but, just in general life, it sucked not to have had someone saying, ‘No, that’s not the right way’.

 

A lot of things were thrown at me quite young and I had to experience stuff that maybe I wasn’t ready for. When I had something wrong with me, I didn’t know how to speak to someone about it, or to ask for advice.

 

That’s when I’d kind of do something crazy. Like walking 50km one day on my way home from the gym, or thinking I’d test out my sore knee by running seven or eight laps of the Tan in Melbourne. But I was just flipping out sometimes, especially when I couldn’t play.

 

My bank balance last year got down to 14 cents. I’m going to get a tattoo, I don’t know where yet, that says 0.14, just to remind myself how low I’ve been.

 

I’ve had six knee operations now; five on my left and one on my right. A hereditary condition weakened my meniscus, which means it just keeps tearing.

 

When I was younger, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m only 14, I’ll be back.’ I didn’t know it was chronic until maybe the fourth one. That’s when I thought, ‘This is a bit of a joke’. But until then, it was only an arthroscope, so I was always like, ‘Oh, you’ll be back in six, eight, 10 weeks. You’ll be fine’.

 

After the fifth surgery, when I was about 20, I was out for four months. After the last one, I had 14 months off. I was a lot more mature than I was for the other ones, so I had to take it a bit more seriously.

 

I reckon four or five different times, I’ve been like, ‘Maybe this is not what I do’. My knee was still hurting in the exact same spot after the surgery as it was before, so I thought, ‘It’s not gonna get much better, I’m losing all this money, trying all this surgery’. The last one cost $10,000 or something. That’s when it all just hit me.

 

Luckily, I had a couple of people telling me, ‘You’re really good at tennis’, who sort of brought me back, kept me going. My knee was still hurting but I was just like, ‘Oh, OK, screw it, I’ll just keep playing’.

 

 

I was about 18 when I was told not to play on hardcourts; that, because of my knees, it was clay or nothing. That went on for five or six years. At least I never had to change surfaces!

 

When it really sucked was Aussie Open time because I had to go play Futures in America, even when it got to a stage where my ranking would get me into qualies.

 

The toughest year when I was playing on clay was in 2014 and I finished around 140. I was probably going to get an Aussie Open wildcard, which was worth 40 grand at the time. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is going to be unreal, I’m gonna train on clay and then a week before, I’ll go on hard and just do it’.

 

I remember I flew back home from South America and the academy coaches were like, ‘Oh, let’s have a chat’. So we had a meeting with the physio and the doctor and they were like, ‘Look, we’re not gonna give you the wildcard just because of the situation with your knees’.

 

I was just shattered. I just wish I’d gotten rewarded for the year I’d had.

 

And at the end of the next year, I had my fifth knee surgery.

 

Yeahhh acupuncture

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WHAT IF?

I try not to wonder what my career would have been like if I had two good knees. I really try not to because even now, every day I have knee pain. It’s just something I have. I’m trying to find ways to fix it, maybe some different injections, some stem cells. I don’t really want to have another surgery.

 

It screws with my mind to think, ‘What if I had another good leg?’. I feel I could move a lot quicker, my reaction to the ball would be quicker, my shots would be faster because you could put more power through the shots, recovery would be a lot better – I could just keep going and going.

 

So … it’s best just not to go there.

 

I do a muscle stimulator thing on my leg and that sort of warms it up so I can at least play pretty close to my 100 per cent, in terms of striking the ball and all of that. But even subconsciously, I don’t move the same any more. Even if I think I’m feeling 100 per cent, I’m still not pushing off my left leg the way a normal person would. I don’t think I can be 100 per cent if I’m feeling knee pain every day.

 

I was just shattered. I just wish I’d gotten rewarded for the year I’d had. And at the end of the next year, I had my fifth knee surgery.

 

Even last year, the doctors said, ‘Don’t play on hardcourts’. I said, ‘I need money’. Because I had to risk it, because I was literally that desperate, it kind of just happened. It wasn’t, ‘Screw everyone, I think I can do it’. I just had to try and make money. Then I made money. And then I just kept going.

 

But I did decide that if my knee screws up one more time, then I’m done. I’m retired.

 

After the past 12 months, it would be tougher if it happened now but I’d cross that bridge when I got there. One more surgery would be six on my left knee. I’m 25. If I have kids in the future, I want to be able to run around with them. I don’t want to need a walking stick when I’m 35.

 

I always thought in the back of my mind, ‘I reckon I can play on hard, I reckon I can’. Then at times when I did, my leg would swell up, so that wasn’t a good sign. But I was always like, ‘I think I can do this; if I just had a prolonged chance to’.

 

I was young, though, and just too immature about life to take control, so you’re gonna trust doctors and physios over yourself.

 

 

 

THE TURNAROUND

After taking that time off from mid-June to September last year, I wasn’t thinking whether I was going to come back or not, it was more, ‘Where can I make money?’. I’d just moved out of home as well, so I was paying rent every week and I’d got finance to buy a bed and a sofa and stuff.

 

So I thought I’d play the Australian Futures swing in October. I wasn’t saying I thought I’d win tournaments or anything but even making a quarter-final you probably make 800 bucks and at the time, 800 bucks was a lot of money.

 

I’m not sure what clicked. I’d been hitting but it’s not like I’d been working on my game or anything like that. When I won the Traralgon Challenger, I said in the speech, ‘I feel like I’ve really started a new chapter in my life, gone full circle, because that’s where I first did my knee and 10 years later, I’m back here winning a Challenger event’.

 

It was when I was at the Playford Challenge in South Australia in January that I got the call from Lleyton Hewitt, telling me I had the main draw wildcard for the Aussie. It wasn’t a phone number I knew but I answered it and it was, ‘Hey, Lleyton, how’s it going?’ And he goes, ‘Do you reckon you’re ready to go five sets?’. I was like, ‘Oh! Of course, I am. Of course I am!’.

 

I try not to wonder what my career would have been like if I had two good knees.

 

So in the space of three or four months, I went from pretty much nothing to playing six tournaments to getting this wildcard into the Aussie Open.

 

I’d said to my roommate, Maverick Banes, ‘Man, I’m gonna have to do somethin’, I’m gonna have to spend $500 on something, just to reward myself. Maybe a new phone, a new laptop’. And then as soon as I got the wildcard I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I will spend it. I might just keep that in my bank’.

 

It was eight years since my first Aussie Open main draw, so it was pretty cool to be back there. I was just trying to enjoy it. I stayed in a not-unbelievable place but a nice place for me. I was there a week before and just trying to enjoy Melbourne and have some nice food because in my mind, it was, ‘You never know when this is going to come again’.

 

So I had fun, I played Kooyong as well and then I had a pretty good Open match against Pablo Carreno Busta. Physically, I died a bit in the end but to go four sets against a top 10 seed was pretty cool.

 

 

 

WIMBLEDON

After all I’ve been through, it’s crazy that the first Slam I qualified for is Wimbledon. Playing on clay most of the time, I thought, ‘Maybe French Open, eventually get on the hardcourt and then we’ll see what the grass does’. Wimbledon was never my priority.

 

The last time I was here was when I made the semis of the juniors, in 2011. Because you’re young and you just think it’s always gonna happen, I didn’t really embrace it that much.

 

Then when you walk in and you look around, you’re like, ‘Wow’. You go up to the players’ restaurant and the view of all the courts is just unreal. As much as I love all the other Slams, it gives you chills a little bit: ‘I’m here at Wimbledon’.

 

I drew Guido Pella. I was a little bit nervous going into the match situation and best-of-five sets again because I’d cramped in my last round of qualies. So I was a bit like, ‘If I go deep into a fourth set, am I going to be able to last through a fifth?’ Mixed with a bit of nerves, I was a bit hesitant to really get stuck into the match because I wanted to make sure I had enough gas left at the end.

 

As much as I love all the other Slams, it gives you chills a little bit: ‘I’m here at Wimbledon’.

 

I lost the first two sets but I was getting into the match by late in the second. I won the third set and then I called the physio out because my knee was a little bit sore. The physio took forever to get out there, I got a bit cold and got broken early in the fourth. But I was pretty impressed with myself that I was able to fight back in all the sets. I wasn’t happy that I lost but I was happy that I gave myself a chance.

 

I earned 39,000 pounds, minus 20 per cent tax, which is around what the Aussie was. After the US Open, when I go home and have a week or so off, maybe then I’ll look back at the trip and try to treat myself a little bit but I’m never one to do anything too crazy.

 

You know what I’d said about wanting to buy a new phone and a new laptop? Well, I bought a $200 foam roller and thought, ‘All right, that’s enough for me’.

 

It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy. As long as I have a bed and somewhat decent wifi, I’m good. I’m just happy playing my tennis again, happy that I don’t need to bloody worry about making money.

 

Pumped to have qualified for my first Grand Slam! #babolat #lululemon #wimbledon

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TENNIS IS FUN AGAIN

Over the last 12 months, I’ve made such a big jump. But I don’t like to set rankings goals – I’ll settle for not getting injured again, or just getting injured somewhere else. Jeez, I’ll take an ankle injury, a shoulder injury. I’d even take more surgery on my right knee. I’d be like, ‘OK, whatever, just stay away from the other one!’

 

I said when I came back that I just want to be happy with what I’m doing and now that I am, I don’t want to go back on that and be, ‘I need to win, or I don’t want to lose’. I’m know I’m going to be trying as hard as I can every day, so however that turns out, it turns out. I just want to keep enjoying tennis and enjoying the journey.

 

I put up a photo on Instagram after I qualified and coincidentally, after you go through that wave of people liking it, a couple of days later the only notification I had was ‘Lleyton Hewitt liked your post’. I had to screenshot that one. It’s a big goal of mine to play Davis Cup one day.

 

I’m just happy playing my tennis again, happy that I don’t need to bloody worry about making money.

 

Tennis is just fun for me now. Obviously, if I start doing really, really bad, then I’m gonna have some worries again but now, I can train as hard as I want, on any surface I want and then just go out there and try my best.

 

Even when I was playing my first round, I was thinking, ‘Unless I was on centre court or something, it doesn’t get much better than this. I have no outward pressure on needing money, or worry that maybe my knee’s gonna hurt. I’ve got trust in my knee, I’ve got money to have dinner and now I’m just looking forward to playing. Like, no pressure’.

 

One thing that’s kind of cool is that when I do interviews now and talk about certain things that have happened in my life, people are like, ‘How did that make you feel?’ Now, I can look back on it and go, ‘Maybe this is how I really felt’.

 

I wouldn’t say all my life’s been tough but I’ve had more downs than ups, I’d say. So hopefully from now, it just keeps going up.

 

 

 

             

 

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