Playing Period: 1996 – 2011
BTT: So, what are you doing now, and where are you based?
JS: At the moment I’m stuck in Melbourne due to the COVID-19. I have been based in Phuket, Thailand, for the past three years but also have affiliations in Melbourne and Bendigo tennis centre. This year, alongside two other coaches (Steven Savino & Calum McCarthy) I started Vahland tennis at the Bendigo tennis centre. Most of the time I spend travelling with players and back to Phuket for training and the climate 😉 looking & working on a few new projects, so hopefully, it works out. Something that interests me is possibly working with TA as a travelling coach.
BTT: Looking back at your playing career, what are some of the moments of achievements you are most proud of, was the funniest or most memorable moment?
JS: Looking back I feel proud of earning my wildcards into the Australian Open, Adelaide and Sydney and then going onto winning matches in these events. By earning I mean winning the playoff tournaments a few times 🙂 I am also proud of being selected for the 2008 Davis Cup squad against Tapei. Playing at home in front of your family and friends is very special to me. I heard many funny comments during my matches that were directed towards my oppositions which you can’t help but chuckle before a return or serve. Example: I was playing Max Mirnyi first round of the Aussie. He was seeded 30. I was playing well and returning well. Max was a big serving serve volleyer, and I hear “Hope you’ve got spare shoelaces Max, because they are on fire” Another was “Belarus airlines calling Max Mirnyi” I did win that match. haha. So yeah many funny stories and good times whilst on the road.
BTT: Reflecting on your pro tennis career, what are the takeaways from it? And how did it prepare you for life beyond?
JS: Tennis taught me many things. It’s a lonely solo sport, so it made me grow up fast from a young age. I developed many skills along the journey which prepared me for life. It made it easier for me to organise and manage myself and to share this with others and my experiences are something that you can’t teach.
BTT: How long before you officially retired were you thinking about the end of your career and what was the actual process of quitting like for you?
JS: I was thinking about this for about a year before phasing out. During this fazing period, I was lucky enough to help out my doubles partner at the time Frederik Nielson from Denmark. We travelled and played doubles, and in return, I helped him. It wasn’t a full-time gig but just a bit of fun at the time. After my ranking started dropping and I didn’t want to play the lower tier tournaments and grind my way back up again. It was quite difficult at the time as I wanted to spend more time with my partner at the time. I was in Stockholm but looking to be in London for her studies so quite stressful. In the end, sadly, it didn’t work out. To tell you the truth, I was fed up with tennis and didn’t step foot on a court for six months.
BTT: In the first few years after retiring, what did things look like for you? What was your daily life like and was it a difficult transition for you?
JS: I was 36 years old when I was still playing and thinking of retiring. By the age of 37, I pretty much retired. As I mentioned previously for the first six months, I didn’t want to go near a tennis court. During this time I was thinking of what to do. I thought of getting out of tennis completely but what… ?? Tennis has been my life, and that’s what I know best. So, I found myself at Wimbledon attending the ATP course, and during this time, Frederik Nielson approached me and asked if I was interested in travelling and coaching him. I agreed, and that was the start of my coaching career. After a year we parted and the year after he won the doubles title at Wimbledon! 🙂
BTT: What helped you to better get through the transition from playing to regular life?
JS: I wasn’t too sure of what I wanted to do. Luckily, I had good people and support around me, which was comforting.
BTT: What advice would you have for a current player in terms of preparing for life after the tour?
JS: I would advise players to broaden their networks whilst playing. As professional athletes, we are privileged enough to be introduced to many high profile people outside the tennis world who are lovers of our sport. These people we encounter might be the ones to help down the track, or they might know of someone who will. As the old saying goes “it’s who we know not what we know” It’s nice to stay in touch with some of them and build relationships and as you step closer to retiring it may make it easier for the transition.
BTT: When players retire, they often speak about feeling quite isolated – how was it for you?
JS: Tennis is a very lonely sport. Traveling the globe alone most of the time isn’t for everyone. It makes you tougher as a person but also did make me feel isolated at times. I guess I am content with myself and didn’t mind my own space, so I was able to work through this.
BTT: What involvement do you still have in the tennis industry? And in the tennis world more generally?
JS: I am heavily involved with tennis. I’m a private travelling coach. I have traveled and coached some high profile players on the ATP & WTA and also coached some juniors. Currently doing some work with Dayne Kelly and before the lockdown some work with Arina Rodionova. Tennis has taken me all over the world, met so many people and cultures. I’m one of the directors/head coaches at Vahland tennis at Bendigo tennis centre but don’t spend much time there due to my other duties with pro players, and then there is Phuket. A great base to have in Central Asia with great facilities and climate for players to train in.
BTT: Since retiring, do you ever find time to catch up with old tennis mates?
JS: I always find the time to keep in touch with old tennis mates. We all grew up playing this sport and have special bonds and friendships with one another. Wherever I am and whatever time zone I’m in I like to keep in touch with my friends. I’ve always been pretty good with that.
BTT: Would you like to reconnect or have more opportunities to connect with the former player community? How important is this to you?
JS: Of course, I would. It’s always nice to reconnect with former players and see where they are and what they are doing now.
BTT: Most athletes have a very clear purpose aspiring to be the best they can….with that chapter closed, what would you say your purpose is now?
JS: I would like to give back my experiences helping players and parents with their tennis/or kids development and careers. Show them what it takes to be a professional tennis player and a balanced person. Be there for them through good and bad times. Enjoy the journey and to believe in the process. Also, my purpose is to be in my beautiful daughter’s life as much as possible. She resides in Melbourne hence why I come back more often these days 🙂
Joey, thanks for taking the time to connect with the BTT family, we look forward to seeing you in Melbourne in the not to distant future!