From qualifying to quarterfinals, Chris Eubanks’ ‘dream’ run ends after captivating Miami Open

Tribune Content Agency

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Christopher Eubanks clapped his hands and pumped his fist to the crowd as he walked off the court for the final time at the 2023 Miami Open. The 26-year-old’s Cinderella run was over after making it from the qualifying draw all the way to the quarterfinals, at center court inside Hard Rock Stadium, and he couldn’t stay down for too long even after his 6-4, 7-5 loss to Daniil Medvedev.

When he got to Miami Gardens last week, Eubanks was perhaps best known to college tennis fans, who maybe remembered him as a two-time All-American at Georgia Tech. As a professional, he had done little of note — a couple of wins at Grand Slam tournaments, a handful of titles on the ATP Challenger Tour — and wasn’t even guaranteed a spot in the Miami Open’s main draw until he won a pair of matches in qualifying.

A week later, he’s set to crack the top 100 of the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings for the first time, almost $200,000 richer and the latest 20-something American to make a run at star status.

“It’s tough right after you lose,” Eubanks said, “but, taking a step back, it’s been a dream week for me.”

For nearly two straight weeks, Eubanks blew up all preconceived notions he had about himself. He got through qualifying with a come-from-behind win in the second round; sprung upsets on Denis Kudla, No. 17-seed Borna Coric, Gregoire Barrere and Adrian Mannarino; and pushed Medvedev, the No. 4 seed in the men’s draw, before falling short of the biggest win of his career on the stadium court.

Along the way, words of supports poured in from his peers, former NFL star Chad Johnson and actor Jamie Foxx dropped by to watch him play, and Eubanks regained faith in his sputtering career.

He went into the week as the No. 119 player in the world and will jump up to No. 85 on Monday after beating Coric in Round 2 on Saturday for his first ever top-20 win and winning three consecutive ATP Tour matches for the first time.

“Seeing this level, the success is probably more of a motivation now. It’s like, Wow. I’ve shown that I can play at this level. I’ve always kind of questioned and wondered, Is my serve good enough? Is my forehand good enough? Do I move well enough? Can I volley to compete with guys? And I think now that I know that, I think that’s more of a motivating factor to continue.”

Even with the straight-sets loss to Medvedev, Eubanks didn’t look out of place in the quarterfinals of an ATP Masters 1000 tournament. He matched Medvedev game for game for half of the first set until a brief rain delay let Medvedev make a tactical adjustment to step up on Eubanks’ second serves, break Eubanks and pull out a first-set win. In the second set, Eubanks had a chance to force a tiebreak and was rallying in the decisive game — drawing roars from the crowd and bursts of emotion from Eubanks — before mishitting a would-be winner out of bounds with a chance to force deuce.

It was an anticlimactic ending for a thrilling run and the crowd groaned as Eubanks threw his head back in disbelief at the unforced error.

“Getting broken in the last game is probably the biggest thing,” Eubanks said. “I would’ve at least loved to get into a tiebreak, see what happened.”

About half an hour later, he was ready to put his run in context, though. He smiled through a 12-minute post-match press conference, cracked jokes about his struggles with his one-handed backhand — he was trying to mimic Roger Federerer, and “now I go up to my dad and I’m like, Why did you let me do that?” he joked — and laughed off some of the bad bounces he got around the net.

He thought back to where his run started in qualifying and how close it was to ending there. In his second and final match of qualifying, Eubanks was down a set and a break to Lukas Klein, only to rally for a three-set win.

The most unlikely run of the Open almost never happened and if it hadn’t, Eubanks would be getting ready to travel to South Korea next month for three weeks of Challenger Tour events there later in the spring. Now, he’s weighing all his options, which could mean taking part in the Tour’s upcoming clay-court swing in preparation for the 2023 French Open in May.

“I could’ve been at home a week ago,” he said. “I’m, I think, about 20 minutes from the loss, so I think there’s a bit of disappointment there, but I think overall, if you take a step back, I don’t think there’s really too much to hang my head at.

“Now, the belief for me is stronger because I’ve seen it, I know that I can do it. … I’ll have an expectation of a higher level.”

This and that

— Medvedev is headed to an all-Russian semifinal after No. 14-seed Karen Khachanov got a 6-3, 6-3 win against No. 25 Francisco Cerundolo on the grandstand court Thursday.

— In the second match of the day in the stadium, No. 15-seed Petra Kvitova pulled out a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win against No. 18-seed Ekaterina Alexandrova to clinch her spot in the semifinals. She’s slated to face Sorana Cirstea in the semis around 3 p.m. on Friday.