WIMBLEDON, England — James Blake first met Chris Eubanks years ago, when the former world No. 4 and current tennis commentator was still playing. Eubanks was a green, rail-thin, likable young player traveling with Atlanta-based pro Donald Young and ingratiating himself to the American contingent on tour mostly by being available whenever anyone needed to hit, like someone’s unusually talented little brother.
“He was just kind of happy-go-lucky at that time,” Blake said.
As Eubanks turned pro himself after two all-American seasons at Georgia Tech, that reputation settled in. He was Mr. Popular in the locker room, good friend of many and frequent hitting partner of fellow Atlanta native Coco Gauff, who shot to fame with a run to Wimbledon’s round of 16 as a 15-year-old in 2019. But Eubanks’s own pro career was stalling with his ranking stuck somewhere in the low 100s to mid-200s, where it would remain for years.
Reputations, as Eubanks learned this month, can change overnight. The 27-year-old capped a career-altering few months Wednesday with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (7-4), 1-6 loss in the Wimbledon quarterfinals to world No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, who advanced to face top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz in a semifinal Friday.
It was Eubanks’s best result by far at a Grand Slam — he had never made it past the second round — and it forever changes the first line on his résumé.
“I joke with him all the time,” Blake said. “For a long time up until now … he was just Coco Gauff’s friend.”
Eubanks’s ranking will land somewhere in the 30s after Wimbledon, status that will award him different treatment at tournaments and probably more respect in the locker room. He has a hard road ahead — he has been gobbling up ATP rankings points and ascending like a rocket ship because his starting point, rankings- and points-wise, was low. The challenge will be defending them and being consistent on tour with more eyes watching.
But it wasn’t just his reputation that changed because of Wimbledon. Eubanks’s self-perception is different now, too, and that may be as powerful of an asset as his big serve.
“I would say I definitely believe a lot more in my ability to contend with some of the best players in the world. It’s tough to really know until you’ve played some of the best players in the world,” he said before rattling off his opponent list of late. “… I’ve seen how my game stacks up against them, how I can disrupt them, how I can frustrate them.”
He frustrated Medvedev enough to grab a two-sets-to-one lead and was four points from victory in the fourth-set tiebreaker. With it knotted at 3, the strongly pro-Eubanks crowd grew rowdier yet as the American shook his fist as if summoning strength. But Medvedev whacked a forehand winner on the next point, and Eubanks surrendered the tiebreaker on three errors from there.
Medvedev, the 2021 U.S. Open champion, leaned on his own experience. He was patient in the early sets, then trusted his game plan and problem solving in the fourth set. As Eubanks tired, Medvedev raised his level just enough by focusing on his serve and earned his first Wimbledon semifinal berth.
The Russian won 28 of the 30 points he served in the fourth set. For the match, he out-aced the 6-foot-7 Eubanks 28-17. Medvedev answered Eubanks’s risky, go-for-broke shot-making with careful precision and had just 13 unforced errors to Eubanks’s 55.
Eubanks still finished with more winners — 74 to Medvedev’s 52 — to give him 321 for the tournament, the most in a single Wimbledon since 1977.
Not bad for a guy who arrived at the All England Club with a 2-8 career record at Grand Slams.
“I’m more than okay with my effort today, how I gave it everything I had. It just didn’t go my way. That’s tennis. There’s only one winner at every single tournament. You have to kind of take the good with the bad, take the positive lessons, learn how you can move from them,” Eubanks said. “… In terms of what it’s going to do, I think it’s going to encourage me to continue to enjoy the process that I’ve been doing, especially over the past year. Just continue to train harder. It’s super cliché, but it’s like I want to continue to feel this feeling.”
Eubanks said that was the only set goal he has going forward: to continue playing with the joy he has felt this week and continue with the work he has been doing over the past year or so, only harder.
Blake said that mind-set, that ratcheting up of all the minutiae of being a professional athlete, is what has made the difference for Eubanks the past few months. He has focused on packing in nutrients to gain weight and get stronger, recovering smarter, being diligent about icing after matches — all the things that tend to fall by the wayside when you’re struggling in the tour’s lower levels.
His ranking may have changed, but his newfound self-belief hasn’t changed his spirit.
“It would be very easy to say, ‘Okay, I want to be top 20.’ I’ve set goals based on a ranking before — it didn’t go well. I’ve kind of thrown that out the window,” Eubanks said. “I’m just kind of enjoying the journey at this point. Wherever my career takes me, I can continue to have the fun that I’ve been having. I can continue to work as hard as I’ve been working. Where I end up, I end up. At this point, especially considering the fact I spent five years hovering in that 220-to-150 range ... at this point, it’s just the cherry on top.
“I’m just enjoying myself. I’m having a great time. I’m probably having the most fun I’ve ever had in playing tennis. I’m going to continue to ride this momentum out. We’re going to see where it takes me.”