Anytime Christopher Eubanks—the 27-year-old American tennis player who’s made a headline-grabbing run into the quarterfinals of his debut Wimbledon—wonders if all this is really happening, he just has to check his phone. One of the most surreal things about his hot streak, he explained to a group of reporters yesterday, is “checking my phone and seeing my name as an ESPN alert.”
There’s a reason, of course, that he’s all over ESPN: when he shared that observation, he had just defeated the number-five ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in a gripping cat-and-mouse five set match. A few seconds later, he added that it’s “weird” to see himself all over social media, where he’s used to watching his sporting idols that are far more accustomed to the center stage. There’s been much ado about the future of American men’s tennis, and, with U.S. stars Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul all eliminated at Wimbledon, the spotlight is now squarely (and deservedly) on Eubanks. One reporter has called him an “overnight sensation.”
To tennis heads, though, this sentiment isn’t exactly true. Eubanks had a fantastic college career, playing for Georgia Tech and twice being named ACC Player of the Year (along with being a two-time All-American). And ahead of Wimbledon this year, he hit a number of milestones that have resonated with fans of the sport: Eubanks reached his first 1000-level quarterfinal in Miami in March. He then won his first tour title, the 250-level grass court Mallorca Open in Spain. And, in taking that championship, he attained his highest ever career ranking on July 3: he’s currently positioned at number 43 in the world. In beating Tsitsipas, Eubanks has added to his trophy cabinet his first defeat of a top-five player, along with reaching the quarterfinals of any Slam. If there is such a thing as a slow-burn overnight sensation, Eubanks is it.
At 6’7”, Eubanks is lanky as a stork, but his height and wiriness make for an effective tool: serving. “I consider myself a server,” he said at Wimbledon. “I hit serving targets for these moments.” Against Tsitsipas, 13 aces helped him toward victory—as did a fourth- and fifth-set uptick on the pace of his second serve. It also helped that he simply rose to the moment: “I started seeing the ball huge,” he told ESPN.
Eubanks has also attributed his recent play to mental maturation. He’s mentioned an increased ability to think of tennis in game-by-game manner, instead of thinking of a match as a win-or-lose proposition. The New York Times reported that Eubanks considered moving on to other pursuits during the COVID-19 pandemic, having toiled around the 200 mark in the rankings and not finding much forward motion. Doubling down on psychological fortification seems to be paying off. (A stint commentating for the Tennis Channel deepened his ability to speak conversationally and insightfully about the game, too.)
Eubanks has credited a number of players for sparking his stronger resolve this year–namely Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka and Kim Clijsters, the former women’s world number one who has since retired.