SAM Barry, Limerick’s highly rated tennis prospect, spent three days practising with Rafael Nadal in London last week.
The 19-year-old from the Ennis Road, currently ranked at 720 in the world, was invited over to the ATP World Tour Finals event in London’s O2 to practice with Nadal, as well as Nicolas Almagro, ranked 10 and the Bryan brothers, the American doubles specialists.
“It was great, it was a good experience. To get a first hand of view of the Masters in London was superb,” said Sam this week.
“I warmed Nadal up before he played Federer, then practised with him the next afternoon for an hour and a half and then I warmed him up before he played Tsonga for about an hour.
“It was good experience obviously to be at the other end of the court from these guys, who are at the top level. Nadal is going to end his career as one of the best players ever so to be on the same court as him was fantastic. His level is so high and it was a great learning process for myself trying to come up and make it,” added Sam.
The affable teenager – billed as a “top prospect” by his fellow Limerick tennis pro Conor Niland – had never practised at such a level before and had to be at his best to keep pace with Nadal.
“Getting to train with the best in the world doesn’t make my ranking any lower, doesn’t make any difference, I still have to win matches – but at the same time getting that experience first hand is crucial. The intensity of the way they train and things like that – that is what you pick up from them,” he explained.
“That in itself is priceless and you can pick up so much by just being around for the whole week and watching them. That was the whole purpose of the exercise and I jumped at the chance when I was asked.”
Sam spent most of this year playing in Futures tournaments - two levels below the top ATP level. But he has hopes for next year and aims to progress to Challenger level and maybe even emulating Niland and qualifying for Grand Slam events.
“I spent the year travelling and this is what the apprenticeship stage of a tennis career is about. When you get into Challenger you are dealing with the best 200-250 players in the world, but getting there, you have to earn your stripes, so that is what next year will be about hopefully,” he said.
“Conor has hugely raised the bar in terms of the standards of Irish tennis and what you can achieve with hard work. He is a great example for me. I take inspiration from him because he is so close to home and I see so much of him, but at the same time I have to put in the hard yards myself.”