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‘A tough lesson to learn’: How a missed email put one tennis player in Illinois instead of Wimbledon

July 11, 2018 6:23 PM
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WINNETKA, ILL.—Centre court at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center in this leafy suburban enclave along Lake Michigan sits nearly 4,000 miles away from Wimbledon’s pristine grass-court setting. Tim Smyczek had planned on competing at the Grand Slam event, but instead he was here on Monday, locked in a three-set match in front of a couple hundred spectators.

Smyczek, ranked 121st in the world, found himself at this ATP Challenger Tour event nearly a month after he accidentally failed to register for the Wimbledon qualifying tournament. It had nothing to do with his on-court performance: He just had not read the entirety of a weekly email of tournament entry deadlines sent out by his agent.

“I’m pretty sure that’s the first time that’s happened to me,” Smyczek, 30, said. “It’s a tough lesson to learn.”

The unforced error — and subsequent unsuccessful efforts to gain a wild card into Wimbledon or at the ATP tournament in Eastbourne, England, the week before — brought Smyczek’s grass-court season to an abrupt end. It provided him with an unexpected week off to prepare for the Challenger event, which he entered as the No. 1 seed.

Smyczek first learned of the Wimbledon mishap when he was at the airport, en route to the Netherlands for the first of two scheduled Wimbledon warm-up events. His coach, Dustin Taylor, had been on a conference call when he noticed the Wimbledon entry list pop up in an email on his phone.

Taylor rarely checks such lists, he said, but with three of his players scheduled to compete, he decided to scan this one. After successfully locating the first two players — Americans Mitchell Krueger and Denis Kudla — Taylor’s eyes scanned down to names beginning with “S.”

Taylor estimated he looked over the list 10 times. Smyczek’s name was not there.

“As a coach, you never want to break that news to a player,” Taylor said. “You never want to let them (know) that they’re going to miss any Slam, let alone Wimbledon.”

When Taylor finally managed to bring himself to tell his player, Smyczek responded in disbelief: “Tell me it’s not so.”

Smyczek contemplated scrapping the European trip altogether amid the disappointment of missing the opportunity to play the Wimbledon qualifier, which he had entered six times before. Smyczek will also miss the U.S. Open qualifying tournament later this summer because he and his wife are expecting a child — which made his Wimbledon mistake even more difficult to take.


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