BTT: Tell us about your favorite moment on a tennis court?
MD: It was always a dream to play main draw at Wimbledon, so when I qualified in 1998 and drew world number 4 Greg Rusedki, I got the opportunity to play on stadium court 1 in front of a packed house. Having had my fair share of struggles and battling to keep funding myself to play pro tennis, I saw it as a reward for having persevered and having the chance to play on one of the biggest stages in the world.
BTT: How was life on the tour?
MD: For me, I wouldn’t say it was easy. I didn’t come from money so it was a constant grind early on in a few different areas. As an example, booking flights and accommodation in the 90s was nowhere near as easy or accessible as it is now where you can jump on line and get things done quickly and conveniently. Being on a limited budget, booking cheap flights and accommodation in advance was critical but that also made it difficult because things change and you can never quite predict your results or cuts for tournaments when you are going away for a couple of months at a time. That in itself creates stress. For the first few years, it was also a case of staying home and earning enough money by winning some AMTs and coaching in order to be able to afford to have a stint overseas, so my playing schedule was somewhat limited. Once I got my ranking up a little higher and played a few main draw slams and therefore got a bit more money in the bank, it became more enjoyable. Having a great circle of aussie mates that I typically travelled with certainly made the stints away from home easier to manage and also having a brother that played on tour helped make the experience more rewarding when we could spend some time training and playing together.
BTT: Did you enjoy the travel?
MD: I was always a bit of a home body, and still am to a large degree, so travelling and being away from home for long periods was tough. I feel that if I was in a position both with my ranking and from a financial perspective, to be more able to play for shorter periods and then come home, it would have made things more manageable. It made it more difficult to sustain the necessary mindset and hunger for both training and competition if it was in the vicinity of a two or three month tournament block. It helped having some great friends in America where I was able to take a week or two break in order to refresh and train however it still didn’t replace being at home with friends and family. Being Australian, it was an unfortunate reality that we had to stay away for longer periods in order to maximize bang for buck.
BTT: Are you still mates with the guys you toured with?
MD: Definitely! A lot of my tour mates were my peers in junior tennis so having that life long connection has been terrific. Some of those guys have also become coaches so I have worked closely with some and also cross paths fairly regularly with others at tournaments.
BTT: Was life after tennis something you thought about during your career?
MD: It was something that I was pondering even early on in my pro tennis journey. As mentioned above, the first few years weren’t easy with finding enough money to give myself a good shot at it, and when I had neck issues for a couple of years, I was close to throwing it in the “too hard basket”. At the age of 22, I enrolled into a sports psych degree and was accepted. I was also considering a golf management course and/or a golf traineeship as golf has always been a real love. Not long before I was due to start my sports psych course, I started to do better with my tennis, won a couple of satellite events and therefore decided to defer my course and keep having a crack. I spent another four or five years playing and stopped at the age of 28. I’d always enjoyed coaching at a younger age, and as mentioned, had been a vehicle for funding my travel. I was a little unsure if it was what I wanted to do full time but I was fortunate that as soon as I stopped, some opportunities came my way. I feel that coaching chose me as much as I chose it. I worked alongside Geoff Masters in the Qld Academy of Sport and was fortunate to be able to work with juniors such as John Millman and Sam Stosur at the time. Not long into it, I had an opportunity to work as a tour coach with a player from Hong Kong. I was apprehensive initially, however I decided to take a chance, was successful in landing the job and relocated to Hong Kong for 18 months. It was a great initiation into tour coaching and laid the platform to continue my coaching journey.
BTT: What was the retirement process like for you?
MD: I think I may have elaborated on this topic above however the one thing that any player probably grapples with, as I did, is pulling the trigger to stop playing knowing that the rest of your life is a long time retired from playing the sport that you love. The catalyst for me though, was the fact that the last couple of matches I played, I had a feeling of not wanting to compete fully. As a coach, I’ve always battled with lack of best efforts because as a player, the first time I felt that I didn’t want to compete fully, I retired. Looking back, I was at peace with my decision. I felt that I’d given it a decent go and just didn’t really want to continue grinding away trying to get into the top 100, which was my goal.
BTT: How important do you think it is for current players to plan for a career beyond tennis?
MD: Much like competing on the tennis court, it’s dangerous if you only have plan A! For players who might be passionate about coaching following their playing days, there are avenues available to become accredited whilst still competing as a pro. There are several players currently engaging in the JD course in Brisbane which is great to see. For those interested elsewhere, there is plenty of time available around training and tournaments to educate yourself part time and it has the combined benefit of discipline and time management, which should be beneficial to the way you go about your business on the court.
BTT: Once off the tour did you feel any sense of loss (community/friends)
MD: Somewhat, although as I mentioned earlier, I have been fortunate to stay in touch with some of my playing peers through coaching. Perhaps, also because of the fact that I have a good circle of friends through golf, that alleviated any potential feeling of loss or disconnection I may have felt.
BTT: What are some of the life lessons tennis taught you?
MD: You have to learn pretty quickly how to deal with failing as a player. Everyone has a different personality and temperament but in general, it’s dangerous if you are on too much of an emotional roller coaster throughout your tennis journey. So, having that ability to persevere, to handle adversity, and to show great patience by sticking to the process when things aren’t quite working for you are qualities that I feel serve you well in other areas of life also.