Aucklander Michael Venus reached the tennis mountaintop, when he won the French Open doubles title with American Ryan Harrison last month. Years of paying his dues paid off, with a precious grand slam title and a career-high world ranking of 15.
The big hitting 29-year-old - whose love of tennis started as a kid at the Browns Bay club thanks to his tennis-mad family - chats from London about the ups-and-downs of life on the professional tennis road.
Is winning a grand slam title a dream come true?
Unbelievable. You dream about it as a kid, but to go ahead and do it is something else. Then to almost make the Wimbledon semifinals...
It was a great two weeks (in Paris) and we survived some very close matches, which helped us late in the tournament because it felt like we had been there, done that.
Have you been able to soak up the triumph?
We played the final on Saturday, I looked around Paris with my girlfriend (London-based Kiwi lawyer Sally Trafford) on Sunday, Monday I was on the train for another tournament in the Netherlands. Nothing has changed too much - the big thing is knowing the tournaments I can get into for the rest of the year, and being able to plan accordingly.
How do you find a doubles partner?
You get to know everyone at tournaments and from practising. You work out what styles might suit you, who you get on with. I first played with Ryan when I was in college. Ryan flew up the singles rankings quickly so we played different tournaments for a while. I moved up the doubles rankings, and unfortunately his singles dropped for a bit - it wasn't until the beginning of this year we were at the same tournaments. Ryan is a very good singles player, around 40 in the world, and made two grand slam quarter-finals in doubles. He has a huge serve, moves really well around the net, returns well, and fights to the bitter end no matter what.
Are you mates?
His dad actually coaches me when I'm in the States, and I stay with his parents in Florida. I even stay at the house sometimes when they aren't there. And I was a groomsman at his wedding this year, so we are very good friends. That helps us a lot on the court - we get a feeling when the other one has something going on, might not be feeling so well, what makes the other one tick. If one is struggling we know what to say.
Who came before Ryan?
Ooooh, quite a few. I played with something like 24 partners in one year...it can be a revolving door. My ranking at that time required me to find different guys to make it into tournaments. I started this year with (Swede) Robert Lindstedt and we got on quite well but it wasn't working on court despite trying everything. You have to put the friendship aside, treat it as a business, go your separate ways. It can be almost like having another relationship, you spend so much time with the people. So things which happen off the court can affect what happens on the court. Then again, some people don't get on yet play well together.
The future? Your goals?
My dream has been to win a grand slam, and be number one in the world. But I pride myself on my work ethic...I've thrown everything at this, and whatever my best ranking will be will be. Ryan's main thing is still singles although he loves playing doubles. Ryan tells me what weeks he wants to play singles and doubles, and the other weeks I'll find other guys to play with. We head to the States in two weeks, and will play up to the US Open. Our goal is to accumulate enough ranking points to make the world tour finals in London. I'd love to play in another grand slam final.
Other career highlights...
Winning a first round singles match at the Auckland tournament...it was completely full, the crowd really into it, the feeling of winning that match was unbelievable. Also, winning the doubles there. What made those extra special was having my family there. They normally only see me play in the middle of the night on a computer stream. The highlight was looking over and seeing their faces, being able to share it with them.
What about the tough times?
My family could tell you about numerous text messages and phone calls from me...when you are travelling by yourself for 10 months of the year, you haven't seen family and friends for a while, in a country by yourself, maybe they don't speak English there, you have a tough loss, you are sitting in the room by yourself in the middle of the night... you have those thoughts "Is it worth it, is this what I want to be doing?". The answer always came - this is what I love doing, it is special, take every opportunity and enjoy it.
Was family support vital?
For my first seven years I lost money. It was tough. My parents (Lynne, a nurse, and David, who worked for a lighting company) knew I loved playing and believed in me and just said try not to worry and we'll help where we can. They told me to keep pushing, see what happens. My dad had been fighting cancer on and off for a while and he passed away last year...the last tournament he got to see me play was when I won the Auckland title. That's why it is extra special. I'm sure he would have loved the French Open, he was very proud. My mum was there, she was pretty happy. She gave me a big hug and said she loved me.
If you weren't a tennis professional...
I always wanted to give tennis a crack.
Are you superstitious?
Every tennis player has their rituals and routines but I'm relaxed when it comes to that stuff. I love my little nephews and nieces and they sent me a couple of drawings which I keep in my tennis bag. Not that you can really decipher them - they are an attempt at something. I keep them in a side pocket and look at them every now and then. That always brings a smile to my face.