County Down teen is getting to grips with life as a pro

Peter Bothwell
Peter Bothwell

You’re 18 years of age and about to head off alone to Egypt for a tennis tournament at your own expense in the hope that you will meet up with a doubles partner to enhance your chances of making a few pounds to offset the cost of the trip.

It’s not an imaginary scenario but a real one as far as Peter Bothwell is concerned and much of the time he spends on tour is akin to solitary confinement be it in a hotel room or on an plane.

So it’s hardly a glamorous lifestyle, is it? Bothwell is just one of many tennis pros who have just set out on the tour in the hope of making a career out of the sport.

The Hillsborough teenager left conventional school at the age of 16 and headed to the Soto Tennis Academy in southern Spain to continue his education and, at the same time, attempt to carve out a successful playing career.

Bothwell picked up his first world ranking point a few weeks ago at a tournament across the water and the princely sum of £134 for his first round victory.

He also reached the doubles final at the recent Irish Open and in tandem with David O’Hare he lost out to a pair which included former Wimbledon champion Freddie Neilsen.

By reaching the final he also picked up world ranking points in doubles so, while the steps might be small, he is certainly moving in the right direction.

“At the moment I think I am maybe a wee bit ahead of schedule as far as the professional career goes and people always say the first world ranking point is the hardest,” he said.

Peter says he owes a debt of gratitude to his parents, Nigel and Louise, both of whom come from tennis-playing backgrounds.

“It all started at age six at Downshire, my local tennis club, when I was coached by my mum, Louise Tuff, and my grandad Sammy Tuff,” he explained.

“I was selected for the Irish National Tennis Academy in Dublin where I lived and trained before returning to train in Northern Ireland and in Malahide Co. Dublin.

“I now train at Soto where for two years I’ve been developing my all round game on the red clay courts which are so hard to come by back home in Ireland and in the UK.

“It’s a fantastic set up for tennis, the facilities and the coaching I receive are second to none plus the sunny weather helps.”

Peter’s mum was no mean tennis player herself having played two years at junior Wimbledon, represented senior Ulster over a 25 year period, represented Ireland in Federation Cup and attended a US University on a tennis scholarship for four years.

She is also a level 3 qualified tennis coach Ireland (TCI) and an accredited coach tutor and she has captained various successful Irish U-12, U-14 and U-18 international teams.

Dad Nigel, a self-confessed late starter who earlier played football, played division one league tennis for Boat Club, was non-playing captain of the senior Ulster interprovincial team on five occasions and was an Irish senior selector for a period.

“Peter took up tennis at age six when I was coaching at Downshire Hillsborough our local club. Peter’s enthusiasm, how hard he hit his forehand, his hand eye coordination and his throwing skills were exciting to watch.” said Louise.

“He loved being on the tennis court be it with other kids or one to one and loved any type of competition.”

Peter’s parents didn’t take the decision to send their son to attend the Soto Academy lightly as dad Nigel explained.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for Peter to leave home, leave Dromore High School who had been very supportive of his tennis aspirations and his friends and there was the cost involved. “ he said.

“However with Peter ambition’s to play tennis professionally and to play Davis cup for Ireland his mum and granddad the late Sammy Tuff (Ulster’s first LTA qualified professional coach) encouraged Peter in his quest to relocate to Spain to avail of training on slow clay courts where he could best develop his all round game”

But there was more to it than tennis alone as Soto encourages an holistic approach to the development of its students.

“There was more to the decision than just tennis, as a coach myself I liked the ethos of Soto Tennis Academy, to develop the whole person not just the tennis player.” added Louise.

“At Soto the coaches don’t make players but we try to create an environment for players to make players. A happy tennis player is a hard working tennis player,” Dan Kiernan, Director of Tennis at Soto explained.

Playing on the tour isn’t cheap either as Nigel points out particularly as his son does not have a sponsor although he is grateful for the funding he receives from the Mary Peters Trust.

“Peter needs to be competing at 25 tournaments a year. It has averaged out at £850 per tournament for Peter to compete at the 10 men’s Futures he has played to the end of July,” Nigel continued.

“Prize money rarely covers outgoings at this level, even if you win the tournament. The prize money at the Futures level has not changed in over 20 years.

“It was great recently to hear Andy Murray say that there should be some of the larger prize money from tournaments such as Wimbledon cascaded down into men’s Futures to keep ambitious younger players solvent and to prevent the drop out because of finance, so hopefully someone is listening.”