Davis Cup and more titles on the radar for Sunderland tennis prospect Jonny Binding
It isn't easy to make it as a professional athlete - and some may argue it's even tougher coming from the North East.
Sunderland is an incredibly passionate area when it comes to sport. Just a few months ago, the city cheered with pride as local lads Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson played a key part in England’s run to the World Cup semi-final.
Twelve months earlier, South Hetton’s Steph Houghton led England women at the European Championships, while Wearside boxer Tony Jeffries won bronze at the 2008 Olympics and cricketer Paul Collingwood, born in Durham but a lifelong Sunderland AFC fan, has been a stalwart for the England cricket team for over a decade.
But, when it comes to tennis players, Sunderland’s history at the elite level is pretty much nonexistent.
High Barnes’ Jonny Binding is hoping to change that.
“I love being from the North East and that motivates me to do well in tennis because I want to be a role model for younger guys that I train with,” says Binding, 25, who gained a professional ATP ranking in 2016.
“There are a lot of guys who have loads of potential but if you don’t believe it or haven’t been told you don’t always make it.
“I definitely think being in London or being in the South, there’s more opportunities because there’s more players, more facilities, more access to play different tournaments down there.”
Tennis may seem like a glamorous sport which attracts the rich and famous to gather in their droves at Wimbledon every year.
In reality, though, the lower tiers can be brutal and unforgiving, with low prize money making it hard to earn a living.
Binding, a tall, left-hander who specialises in doubles, is learning the hard way, after graduating from Durham University with a sports science degree in 2016.
But, after winning his first $15k ITF Futures title in Sintra, Portugal in August and slashing his doubles world ranking to a career-high 651, the Wearsider is making strides on the professional circuit.
Don’t be fooled by the lucrative $15k sum though, for a start that’s dollars rather than pounds, and the total figure is divided between all players at the event - singles and doubles.
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The average cost to play on the tour for a year is around Â£16,000 per year, but Binding, whose combined career winnings is less than half of that, admits he’s had to cut corners to sustain his career.
“Everything is to a budget, accommodation-wise I’ve been lucky enough to meet people at uni, meet people at different tournaments so I try and stay with friends or on people’s sofas,” he adds.
“I try to stay away from hotels so in Portugal I stayed with a family, the next few weeks I stayed in a hostel which was Â£20 per night. I try to cut costs wherever I can.”
“Financially, I’d worked as tennis coordinator and head coach in my last year at uni, worked most of the summer, so I did have enough money to probably play for a year.”
However, despite the continued support from his parents Jacqui and Paul as well as his Wearside-based coach Adam Barratclough, Binding knows the money won’t last forever, and hopes he can gain financial support to help achieve his dreams.
“I’d love to have a North East company behind me or a Sunderland company behind me, I think that would be amazing,” says Binding, who’s currently looking for sponsorship to help fund essentials like equipment, travel expenses, clothing and accommodation.
Earlier this month Binding won his second Futures title in Nottingham, this time with Stirling University student Scott Duncan, and the Wearsider has aspirations of going even further.
In the last few years Binding has gone toe to toe with some of the best players in the country, and back in 2015 he defeated Great Britain’s Davis Cup star Dan Evans, whose meteoric rise saw him soar to a career-high singles ranking of 41.
Binding hopes to make a similar surge up the rankings, and believes he has the ability to compete on the national stage.
“In doubles, I don’t see myself far off anyone,” he says.
“There’s a lot I can still work on, a lot I can still improve on to be at that level but I’m confident at the moment and am working towards it.”