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Ethan Quinn and Illya Marchenko: The grind never stops when you’re chasing your dreams
On the Tennis.com Podcast, Kamau Murray sat down with two players at different stages of their careers who have the same goal in mind.
Published Jul 23, 2023
WATCH: Ethan Quinn featured in the daw in Newport this week, where he won a round before losing to top seed Tommy Paul.
Tennis players around the world are chasing the same dream: "How can I make a living playing the game I love, the game I've dedicated my life to?"
Whether you’re an American prodigy, a Ukrainian veteran with miles upon miles of expertise, the journey to prove yourself continues every single day.
The Chicago Challenger at Kamau Murray’s XS Tennis Center attracted a wide breadth of talented men’s players, looking for the next surge of momentum in their quest for success in 2023. Ethan Quinn is the reigning NCAA national champion, having just become a pro. Illya Marchenko has been on tour since 2005, and is trying to recapture the form that once took him to a Top 50 ATP ranking.
Both men were guests on this week’s episode of the Tennis.com Podcast, and each has a distinct outlook on the path they have chosen.
Less than two months ago, Quinn was hoisting a national title trophy. The redshirt freshman captured the singles crown representing the Georgia Bulldogs, a journey that seemed equal parts unlikely and manifest destiny. He grew up in Fresno, with parents that were active in tennis but not professionals. But just partaking in the game sparked something that sticks with him to this day.
“Once I got to seventh grade, I was really into tennis. I was wanting to play every single day,” Quinn recalled of when the tennis switch flipped inside of him. “Even in Fresno, it’s 110 degrees in the summer, and I was just wanting to be out there. I was the only guy on the court some of the days, but I was just wanting to play as much tennis as possible.”
Quinn is a buttoned-up young man, an engaging personality who has been preparing for these moments his whole life. He doesn’t shy away from any moment on court, yet he remains equally appreciative of what it takes to be a high-level player, and how fortunate he is to be in this situation.
Quinn has had several incredible coaches and mentors, from University of Georgia’s leader Manny Diaz to Brad Stine, a fellow Fresno native who has been instrumental in his development.
After winning the national title, Quinn faced the difficult decision of returning to school or forgoing his final three years of eligibility. Stine was the rock Quinn leaned on before ultimately deciding to make the leap.
“He kind of told me just where the market was on my brand. I’d like to say “EQ” is a brand now,” Quinn said, sheepishly. “There’s a lot of recognition now, but if I don’t do what I’m supposed to do next year (repeat as the national champion), then it kind of all collapses. And I felt like this would be the best for me, my brand, and where I want to be.”
There’s risk in every major life decision, and Quinn acknowledges that. But he’s striking while the iron is hot and has surrounded himself with people who have the player’s best interests in mind.
Now it’s time for Quinn to do what he always does: Go to work.
Meanwhile, Marchenko is not a newly-minted pro tennis player. His career began 18 years ago, which seems like a lifetime ago. The Ukrainian has reached a career-high ranking of No. 49, scored wins over the likes of David Ferrer and Nick Kyrgios, and has won 10 ATP Challenger titles.
Yet Marchenko keeps going because there is no other career he’d rather pursue.
“The game inspired me. I like to run, I like to do all the shots, fighting, and everything. Just a beautiful, beautiful game to play,” he recalled. It was his father who introduced him to the sport (his mother introduced his future Olympian brother to figure skating), and before long, the younger Marchenko was ready to test his might on a global stage.
He chased his dream from country to country, having to leave home early and often due to the lack of competition. But he found way, and like many in his region of the world, Marchenko continued to press on and remain in the game.
Murray asked Marchenko a very poignant question regarding the new crop of talent emerging in the pro game. The host has seen several young prospects give up their pro dreams after failing to yield good results early. What advice would the veteran, who has very little left to prove, offer up this generation starting out?
“Keep the grind," he said. "The field is very even right now, I think it’s more even than it used to be. Everybody can hit a ball, and only top guys are staying. So they need to be tough. That’s the main thing for the young guys.”
The Tennis.com Podcast is always an insightful listen, but especially so in this case. Murray was on his home turf, introducing the world to two different perspectives regarding the very same dream. Whether you are new on the scene, or approaching the twilight of your career, every tennis event is an opportunity to succeed.
Marchenko and Quinn are two ships passing in the night, and each has the hunger for more glory on the court.