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Tiafoe talk inspires Chris Eubanks to career milestone in Miami
The 26-year-old American took down Grégoire Barrère 6-3, 7-6 (7) to reach the fourth round of an ATP Masters 1000 for the first time.
Published Mar 28, 2023
WATCH: Chris Eubanks defeats Gregoire Barrere in the 2023 Miami Open third round
MIAMI, Fla.—Minutes after a dramatic victory at the Miami Open, qualifier Christopher Eubanks was barely able to process what he had just accomplished.
The American, ranked No. 119, fought past Grégoire Barrère 6-3, 7-6 (7) and overcame a lengthy rain delay on Monday evening to reach the fourth round of an ATP Masters 1000 for the first time.
“I’m one of those people that watches other people get all emotional over positive stuff and all, and I’m like, 'Man that’s so dramatic,'” he told press afterward, smiling through the tears in his eyes. “But like, I just think back and it’s just weird. It’s like everything is coming together.”
In February, the 26-year-old came heartbreakingly close to a long-awaited Top 100 breakthrough—peaking at No. 102—but couldn’t manage to get over the line as he toiled away at ATP Challenger events and qualifying rounds.
After finally deleting the ATP rankings app from his phone, Eubanks put his head down and got back to work: longer practices, more reps, extra recovery—the American says he became more diligent about his routines, and slowly his tennis started to show the results too.
In Miami, he played through qualies to return to the main draw for the first time in three years, and earned another massive breakthrough in the form of his first Top 20 victory, defeating Borna Coric 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
That victory served as validation for Eubanks, who admitted that he struggled with self-doubt after finishing college tennis at Georgia Tech and then hitting a plateau upon joining the pro ranks.
“Growing up I was never the best junior, I was never the best in my state or in my section, I never was the best in the nation or any of that stuff. But I just practiced and just worked, and said whatever happens, happens,” Eubanks told press. “I got a college scholarship, and that was great. I said that I wanted to play pro, but I didn’t know if I really meant it. And then I had one good summer and I was like, Oh, maybe I can play pro.
“I knew I had the game to compete with Top 100 guys, but I didn’t know if I had the consistency to actually win enough matches to get there. And now? Wow… It’s crazy. This is weird!”
Up against Barrère on Court Butch Bucholz, Eubanks was nearly untouchable in the first set as the 6’7” American used his huge serve to stay in control—striking 89 percent of his first serves. But after trading breaks of serve in the second, Eubanks started to see the set slip away as his opponent raced ahead 5-2 in the tiebreaker.
That’s when the rain came down, sending both players off the court for about 90 minutes. Eubanks says that he spent the time talking strategy with coach Ruan Roelofse—who he started working with at last year’s US Open—but it was an unexpected pep talk from countryman Frances Tiafoe that left the biggest impression.
“The first person I saw when I went into the locker room was Frances,” Eubanks said. Tiafoe had been down a set and trailing Lorenzo Sonego on Stadium, but took the time to give his good friend some reassuring words.
“I said something like, ‘Yeah hopefully I find my range in case this goes three.’ And Frances was like, ‘Man, forget that! You can go out there and win seven points in a row!’ Those were his exact words to me… I was like, you know what? That’s a good idea.”
Upon resumption, Eubanks flubbed a return and went down 2-6, but recovered in epic fashion, winning seven of the next eight points—saving five set points in the process—to close out the tiebreaker and seal the biggest win of his career. Eubanks buried his head in his hands in disbelief as he soaked it all in, while his coach hit him with another surprise: According to the ATP Live Rankings, he is now on track to make his Top 100 breakthrough come next week.
Afterward, he recalled another locker room chat with Tiafoe that took place at the US Open, where Eubanks had just won his first Grand Slam main draw match with new coach Roelofse.
“I said to him, Man, for the first time in my career I genuinely feel like I can compete with these guys in the Top 100, like I can be on that level. And Frances kind of hits me and he’s like, what do you mean you think? You’ve always been at this level.”
Smiling through watery eyes, Eubanks credited Tiafoe as being “one of the guys on tour that has done the most for my confidence”.
“He was very, very adamant. He was very forceful about it,” Eubanks recalled. “I mean, he’s a friend, obviously, and maybe he was just gassing me up a little bit, but he’s always been very positive about reinforcing to me the fact that I can play at that level. That I belong at this level—that’s one of the words he used—and that I just have to believe it.
“I think now I’m finally starting to take his words of advice.”
Eubanks takes on No. 62 Adrian Mannarino on Tuesday for a spot in his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.