WIMBLEDON – Until about a week ago, even Chris Eubanks did not really believe he was capable of this sort of thing — of beating the world's best tennis players at Wimbledon, of reaching the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament, of winning match after match after match on grass courts.
“I would show up to tour events saying, ‘Oh, can I get through a couple rounds of here?’” he said during an interview the day before play began at the All England Club. “Now I genuinely can say, probably for the first time, I’m showing up to tournaments with higher expectations and really wanting to do well and put my best foot forward. I'm no longer feeling OK just being there. I know that I belong.”
Does he ever.
Eubanks, a 6-foot-7, big-serving American making his Wimbledon debut at age 27 right after claiming the first ATP title of his career, reached the quarterfinals at a major for the first time by stunning two-time Slam runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas 3-6, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in a little over three hours on Monday.
“It's surreal. I can’t really describe it,” said Eubanks, who is from Atlanta and played college tennis at Georgia Tech.
“I just think the entire experience, all together, has just been a whirlwind. It’s been something that you dream about,” Eubanks said. "I didn’t really know if that dream would actually come true. I’m sitting here in it now, so it’s pretty cool.“
He is ranked a career-best 43rd right now and had a win-loss record of merely 6-10 before going on the run to the trophy at Mallorca, Spain, on July 1. That came on grass, which he decided he hated a month ago — calling it “the stupidest surface” in a text he sent to International Tennis Hall of Fame member Kim Clijsters — after exiting in the second round at a low-level ATP Challenger Tour event.
“Those words will never come out of my mouth for the rest of my career. The grass and I, we’ve had a very strenuous, I would say, relationship over the years,” Eubanks said after accumulating 53 winners, 16 more than Tsitsipas. “But right now, I think it’s my best friend.”
He is now on a nine-match winning streak after adding the upset of the No. 5-seeded Tsitsipas to an earlier victory over No. 12 Cam Norrie at the All England Club. Next comes another challenge, meeting No. 3 Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 U.S. Open champion, for a berth in the semifinals.
“I know I need to be at my 100% and absolute best physically, tennis-wise, and mentally to try to beat him,” said Medvedev, who won his only previous meeting against Eubanks, at the Miami Masters in March. “He is not scared to make a bad shot and still to go to the net and try to finish the point there. Definitely a little bit different from other players.”
This is just the ninth Grand Slam tournament for Eubanks, who previously never had been past the second round at one of the sport’s most prestigious events. After questioning his ability to contend for titles, Eubanks thought about pursuing television commentary instead, and he's worked on-air for Tennis Channel.
But he sure is having a terrific time with a racket in his hand these days.
And between matches, too.
“I checked my phone. It’s a bit nuts right now. It’s crazy to see my social media feed that I’m just used to kind of going to (and now) seeing it’s a lot of me. I’m like, ‘What is this? This is weird,’” Eubanks said. “But I think I’ve been able to find a way to compartmentalize everything, realize this is a pretty big moment, but also saying, ‘This is a tennis match that I need to play in a couple days.’”
During the latter stages against Tsitsipas, Eubanks waved his arms to the crowd to urge it to get louder. After smacking a one-handed down-the-line backhand winner that finished with the flourish of a flowing follow-through, giving him a break for a 4-3 edge in the fifth set, Eubanks held his right index finger to his ear, seeking more noise.
When he showed a bit of nerves while serving for the victory, missing a backhand, then a volley, he managed to settle down.
“Although it got a little bit dicey at the end," Eubanks said, "I still could have the confidence to say: ‘I’m a server. I hit serving targets for these moments right here, and let’s just try to do what I know how to do.’”
He closed it out with a 127 mph ace followed by a forehand winner and, after shaking hands with Tsitsipas, stood at the center of the court with his thumbs up, his arms spread wide and a smile to match.
Eubanks soaked up all of the cheers — his supporters included Coco Gauff, the American who reached the fourth round in her Wimbledon debut at age 15 in 2019 and was the runner-up at 18 at the French Open last year — and then curled his fingers to turn his hands into the shape of a heart.