DELRAY BEACH, Fla.—Eric Quigley never thought it would take this long. After a collegiate career that saw him win 172 matches—the most of any player to ever suit up for the University of Kentucky—and reach the final of the 2012 NCAA Championships, Quigley was right to assume that pro success would soon follow.
He chased points in Futures and Challenger tournaments all over North America, traversing from Tallahasee, Fla. to Oklahoma City and Savannah, Ga. to Winnetka, Ill. His biggest payout was $1,272 when he reached the final of a Futures tournament in Canada last year. Most weeks he left with less than $200 in his pocket.
In 2013, Quigley played 31 tournaments and won a total of $9,403 in prize money. Last year he played 29 tournaments and took home $11,402. His career total is just $41,097. For a college grad with a degree in Leadership Communications, that’s not much of a starting salary.
He is currently ranked No. 463 in the world—a career-high mark—and, until this week, had earned just $2,238 this year.
“Well, everyone started from somewhere, so that's what I have to do,” said Quigley, 26 years old and from suburban Louisville.
But Quigley’s wallet got significantly fatter yesterday when he won his third qualifying match at the Delray Beach Open to reach the first ATP main draw of his career. He did so with three consecutive three-set wins: 6-7, 6-3, 6-3 over Argentina’s Facundo Mena, a 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3) victory over American Chase Buchanan, and finally a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over veteran Victor Hanescu, the second seed in qualifying.
Quigley is now guaranteed to leave Delray Beach with at least $4,780, his biggest single payday. If he beats Adrian Mannarino in the first round of the main draw, he’ll nearly double his loot ($8,070).
“I can’t say it hasn’t been tough,” admitted Quigley, a laid-back, polite, white-toothed grinner who would likely make every college coed’s Most Wanted list. “But then getting to play tournaments like this make it all worthwhile.”
Quigley has no endorsement deals, though he does get some rackets, bags and strings from Wilson. He buys his own clothes and shoes from Tennis Warehouse because the online retailer gives a modest discount to ranked professionals. He tried to save money on his hotel this week by booking ahead of time through Priceline.com, though by reaching the main draw, he was offered a room for free (he had already paid for the room).
Quigley is coached by Dennis Emery, his former coach at Kentucky who is now retired from the university. But Quigley can only train with Emery and his physio back home on off weeks, for he can’t afford to bring either team member to tournaments. Eric’s mom helps him out a bit financially, and he has a couple of Kentucky boosters who have also supported him over the last few years.
To help raise money, Quigley has designed a t-shirt with his own personal logo, an avant-garde circle of E and Q, which he sells for $22 online from a Facebook fan page at www.goquigley.com. During his match against Hanescu, some friends wearing the shirts cheered from the stands. He says he has sold somewhere between 300-400 shirts—impressive for a self-made start-up, but hardly enough to finance a pro career.
“I started out doing it for fun,” said Quigley. “I came up with this cool logo and then I had this friend who figured out how to get them made up through this shop in Louisville. I'm doing whatever I can to make ends meet.”
Before this week, Quigley’s career highlight was practicing with Roger Federer during the 2012 Cincinnati Masters. David Nainkin, Quigley’s USTA coach at the time, arranged the practice session. “He was really nice and laid back,” said Quigley of his childhood idol. “He kind of kept to himself during the practice but he also made it really easy for me. And afterwards he even posed for a picture.”
Regardless of his results, Quigley isn’t star struck or intimidated by those ranked ahead of him. He is training harder than ever and finally feels as if his pain is showing some gain. “My first-serve percentage is way up and I’m serving with more spin,” he said. “These courts [in Delray Beach] take a lot of spin and that makes it tricky to return. And all of that just gives me extra confidence.”
Confidence, and a tricky serve, may be just what Quigley needs to survive on the ATP tour. Well, that and a few more match wins—and paydays.