By Owen Morgan
Evan Hoyt – Wales’ No.1 tennis player – has been reflecting on an “awesome” 12 months and setting his sights on trying to qualify for this year’s Wimbledon.
Last May, Llanelli’s Hoyt won the men’s singles title at the inaugural Penarth Windsor LTA British Tour event.
The right-hander, whose promising career had been put on hold by a serious shoulder injury, said after the Penarth final that he hoped the win would act as a confidence boost and put him back on track for success at the top end of the game.
Since then, he has won three singles titles and eight doubles tournaments across Europe, America and Australia on the ITF World Tennis Tour, as well as reaching a number of other finals.
As a result, he rocketed up to a career high of 414 in the ATP singles rankings towards the end of 2018, having started the year at 1,245. He also reached a doubles career high of 244, having not been ranked at the turn of the year.
Commenting on whirlwind 12 months, Hoyt said: “It’s been awesome. I’d say from about summertime last year I really started to kick on and I started to gain momentum and confidence, so it’s been a great time since then.
“I’ve improved my game a lot, but certainly getting a few wins, getting a few good tournaments has helped gain confidence and momentum.
“Playing a lot of matches has helped. I’d only been back playing for about six months when I played Penarth after returning from shoulder surgery. So it does take time when you come back from injury.
“I’ve definitely improved my game. I’m playing a lot better and a lot faster. Those are the main things.”
Hoyt’s successes over the past 12 months have now allowed him to step up to the higher level Challenger Tour events, which are one step down from the ATP Tour.
Instead of playing at this year’s Penarth tournament, Hoyt was due to be playing in Challenger events in Korea.
However, a slight shoulder problem has meant he is now aiming to turn his attention to the British grass court season and hopefully a bid for Wimbledon qualification.
Hoyt says: “There is a bunch of grass court Challengers in the UK which I’ll play, hopefully.
“Then, you’re up to Wimbledon time and hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to play the qualifier, or the wild card play-off. So, it’s an exciting time.”
Qualification for the main draw at Wimbledon won’t be easy, explains Hoyt. “I’d have to come through qualifying and stuff.
“I’d have to be given a wildcard to play in qualifiers, that’s whether I come through the pre-qualifiers, or get given a wildcard directly into qualifying.
“But I’d have to win three matches in qualifying to get into the main draw. That’s the way it looks at the moment.
“I’m confident and I know that if I was given the opportunities in qualifiers then I’d be pumped and I could win matches and make a push to get into the main draw.”
Whether he qualifies for Wimbledon or not, Hoyt is determined to concentrate on continuing to improve his game and rise up the rankings.
His goal is to reach the world’s top 100 and realise his ambition of playing on the ATP Tour alongside the likes of Rafa Nadal, the man he practised with at Wimbledon before suffering the shoulder injury which kept him out of the game for a year.
However, Hoyt’s progress up the rankings has been slowed down by a controversial and complicated new ranking system introduced at the start of 2019.
The ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) run the top level of men’s professional tennis, while the ITF (International Tennis Federation) run the next level down.
Since the turn of the year, players only earn ATP ranking points at the higher level Tour and Challenger level events, or if they reach the latter stages of ITF $25K events.
Those going out before the finals at ITF $25K events and who are competing in $15K tournaments no longer get any ATP rankings points.
However, those competing at 25K and 15K level will get ITF ranking points and thus be ranked in the new ITF system.
At the end of 2018, those ATP points earned by players at the lower-level events essentially vanished, while the new ITF rankings were formulated instead. It is common for players to have both an ATP and ITF ranking.
In Hoyt’s case he is now at 490 in the ATP singles rankings, compared to a high of 414 last year. Under the new system he now also has an ITF World Singles ranking of 15.
In doubles, he is now placed 334 in the ATP rankings, compared to last year’s high of 244. His ITF World Tennis Doubles Ranking is now 3.
Although many players have spoken out about the new system, Hoyt is philosophical about the changes.
He said: “To be honest, I’ve tried not to get involved in the politics around it. There’s been a lot of negative press.
“For me personally, it’s just prolonged getting to the Challenger level, but I’ve put in a few good months of results at the start of this year and I’m now in a position to play Challengers week in week out, which is good.
“There are parts of it that have positives and negatives but I’m fine with it. Things are going well for me. That’s the attitude I’m trying to approach it with.
“My long term goal is to play on the ATP tour and be in the top 100. To get there your level has to be top 100.
“Your tennis game has to be at that sort of level so there’s no point in getting too down about when you’re going to start playing Challenger because if your level is there, you’re going to do it anyway.”
One current ranking Hoyt is definitely happy with is being number one in his home country.
“It’s nice to be Wales’ number one and I know a bunch of players look up to me back in Wales, so it’s nice to lead from the front.”
And he revealed another ambition – the opportunity to pull on the red of Wales at a major event such as the Commonwealth Games.
Tennis made its first and only appearance at the “Friendly Games” in Delhi 2010. As an “optional sport” it is only included at the host city’s discretion.
Currently, it looks likely Hoyt would have to wait until 2026 for an opportunity, as the 2022 Games in Birmingham have opted against including tennis.
However, Hoyt says: “It would be nice if I could represent Wales, hopefully have tennis at one of the next Commonwealth Games, so that I could play in that.
“I know in the last few years they haven’t done, but it would be nice to represent Wales at an event like that. I take a lot of pride in being Welsh.”
If Hoyt carries on the form he has shown over the past 12 months, Wales will also take an increasing amount of pride in him.