As he prepares for his senior debut at Wimbledon, Evan Hoyt tells Owen Morgan how his doubles campaign can help fuel his ambition for continuing the climb up the world rankings.
Still reeling from defeat in the biggest singles match of his senior career, Welsh tennis number one Evan Hoyt received the perfect phone call to raise his spirits.
The 24-year-old had lost in the first round of men’s singles qualifying for Wimbledon – his dream of playing in the main draw at the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament apparently on hold until next year.
But just an hour after stepping off court in the London suburb of Roehampton having lost 7-6, 7-6 to experienced Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, Hoyt answered an unexpected call form Leon Smith which meant he would be extending his stay in the capital.
The LTA head of men’s tennis was ringing to tell Hoyt that he and doubles partner Luke Johnson had earned one of the wildcard places for the main draw in next week’s Wimbledon men’s doubles tournament.
Speaking the day after a rollercoaster day of emotions, Hoyt told Dai Sport: “It was an eventful day!
“It’s amazing news and I’m unbelievably excited to play there next week.
“It was definitely a big pick-me-up because I’d been pretty down after coming off the singles court.
“It was about an hour after the match that I got a call from Leon Smith to say we’d been awarded a doubles wildcard. It definitely cheered up my mood!
“I wasn’t expecting it. I’d written off the doubles after the initial wildcards had been announced. I’d spoken to Leon and he said we hadn’t received a wildcard and it didn’t sound hopeful at all, so to get that news yesterday, it was a bit of a shock.”
Asked whether he and fellow Brit Johnson would be setting any targets for the tournament, Hoyt added: “No targets at all, we’ll take it one match at a time. If we happen to get more than one or two matches that’s a bonus.
“But we know we can do well. Between us, we’ve won a lot of titles at Futures level. The margins aren’t big at this sort of level when you step up and I’ve won a Challenger title as well.
“It’s about performing in the big moments and being clinical. I’m sure we can do that.”
Despite his obvious delight and excitement at being about to make his senior Wimbledon debut, the fierce competitor within Hoyt is still frustrated at the singles defeat to Dutra Silva.
The 24-year-old said: “I had my chances and it was a great experience, but I’m still kicking myself a bit at not having taken my chances when they came. But it was a great experience for the future.
Hoyt, who is currently ranked 501 in the ATP singles rankings, said of his opponent: “He’s been as high as 60 in the world, he’s been playing in these events for the past 10 years, so he was definitely tricky and I think that showed in the bigger moments.
“He was probably a little bit more composed, a little bit more used to being in these situations and he was able to play his best tennis in the big moments. Whereas, I didn’t quite play my best in those big moments.
“I thought I actually played a good match. For most of both sets I played well. I know I went down in the second set but I played really well to get myself back into the match.
“Then it was literally just when I was on the brink of taking the set, or breaking him, that’s when I didn’t quite play my best stuff.
“I had nine or 10 break points in the match and I only took one of those in the second set and that was to break back, not to go ahead. So it was a frustrating loss to take. I knew I had lots of chances and it was a very winnable match.”
Had the doubles inclusion completely made up for the doubles disappointment? “No, not really,” said Hoyt. “But I’m looking at it as two separate events.
“I’m obviously gutted at the singles because I knew I could have progressed, done well and given myself a chance of qualifying this year. But I’ll take it as a good experience for next year, hopefully, and I’m sure I’ll be a lot more settled when I get my chances at this level in the future.
“As for the doubles, it’s the first time I’ve played a Grand Slam event. I played Junior Wimbledon three times, but it’s been a long time and there are different pressures.
“I’m used to playing for the most part at Futures level where I have grown to be quite comfortable over the years.
“But I think you get that at all levels. At the end of last year I was playing my first Futures final for a few years and I remember being quite nervous.
“Then, the next week I made the final again and because I’d had the experience of playing the final the previous week I was free and loose and there were a lot less nerves than there had been the previous week.
“It’s just a learning experience and I know that next time I get this opportunity I’ll be able to relax and settle in to it a lot better because I’ve had this experience yesterday.”
While determined to learn from the defeat, Hoyt is now setting his sights on making his senior Wimbledon debut.
Instead of packing his bags and heading home following his defeat to Dutra Silva, he is looking forward to a week’s practice in London alongside Leeds-born Johnson.
Hoyt said: “I’m going to stick around here in London and Luke is coming down tonight. We’re going to get some good practice done.
“To be honest, I’m going to treat it like any other training week, but also get a load of doubles stuff in and hopefully try and get on court with some of the top British doubles players to try and learn a little bit from them to improve and get sharp in that sense. So, it will be a good, productive week.”
Asked whether he would get a chance to practice on the hallowed turf ahead of next week, Hoyt said: “I’m sure at some point, but honestly, I have no idea. I’ve not looked into it, it’s all very new to me, I’m learning as I go!”
Hoyt comes across as a naturally laid back and relaxed personality, which he hopes will stand him in good stead to deal with any Wimbledon nerves.
“With anyone, despite your personality, playing at Wimbledon for the first time in the senior event, you’re going to feel like everything is a bit new, feel a little bit out of place, like I did at qualifiers yesterday. It’s a very new experience and I’m sure I’ll get that same sort of vibe next week.
“But I think I’ll be a lot more settled for the experience and I look forward to it.”
Hoyt and Johnson are both in the top 10 rankings of the ITF World Tour, which acts as a pathway between the junior and elite levels of tennis. They first teamed up last season for a tournament in Tunisia.
The Llanelli right-hander explained how they came to be paired up. “We had both done well separately at Futures level, won a number of titles and then we ended up playing the same tournament at singles.
“So we just decided to play together because I think we were pretty much the two highest ranked players in doubles at that level.
“So I sent him a message to see if he wanted to play some doubles that week. I think it was in Tunisia that we first played together last year.”
It was a successful start, with the pair winning the event. Since then they have gone on to win titles this year in ITF World Tour events in Barnstaple and Glasgow.
Although singles is Hoyt’s main goal, he enjoys the team ethic of doubles and feels that will help the pair make their debut on such a massive stage.
“It always helps going out there with a partner,” he said. “There’s two of you out there and you become less judgemental and less harsh on yourself. It’s a team game.
“It’s definitely easier to relax a little bit and enjoy yourself. You’ve got someone to talk to. A lot of the time I try to keep it as light-hearted as possible on the doubles court.
If Luke Johnson & Evan Hoyt do not get one of those 2 remaining doubles WCs for Wimbledon then there is no justice. The committee need to sort this out. Both ITF top 10 in Doubles, won multiple doubles ITF titles in the last 12 months, I think 8 each? Won 3 as a doubles team! RT pic.twitter.com/txWWVQI1Iq
— Chris Goldsmith (@TheTennisTalker) June 21, 2019
“But still, at the end of the day, it’s a Wimbledon match and we will go out there and compete as hard as we can and put our games out on the court. It’s a really exciting time.”
Exciting times they may be, but the former Llanelli Tennis and Squash Club player’s current success has not come easy.
Having enjoyed a hugely promising junior career – winning the Junior Davis Cup and reaching the doubles semi-final at Junior Wimbledon – a serious shoulder injury in 2016 put Hoyt out of tennis for 18 months.
Asked whether there were times during his lay-off when he felt that the chance to experience occasions like Wimbledon had been snatched away, Hoyt said: “Yes and no.
“It’s always been a goal and a dream to be playing Wimbledon, and hopefully next year I can make it through to the singles main draw.
“But yes, I think when you’re at such a low and out of the game for so long, it’s all about baby steps. I definitely wasn’t thinking that within a year-and-a-half of coming back I would be competing at Wimbledon. I didn’t think I would progress that quickly.
“When you’re out and not playing the sport, you think first of all about doing well at British level, playing some British tournaments to get you back into it a little bit and then you focus on doing well at Futures level.
“But I definitely didn’t think that I’d be playing Wimbledon a year, or so, after my comeback.
“If I had been sat down at the start of last year and someone had told me you’ll be playing Wimbledon qualifiers and doubles main draw next year, I would have signed up in a heartbeat.
“It’s definitely been an incredible year of tennis. I’ve pushed forward and improved.
“I’m in a good place at the moment. But it’s just the start.”