Limerick's Sam Barry has called time on his professional career
“JUNIOR Wimbledon was same time as my Leaving Cert. I remember finishing a match, getting in a taxi over to the Irish Embassy in London to sit my Spanish exam for the Leaving and then getting a taxi back to Roehampton to play a doubles match in the evening. That’s one of the funnier stories from those days.”
Sam Barry, from Limerick’s Ennis Road, turned professional in October 2010, after a prodigious underage career where he became the first Irish player to compete in all four junior Grand Slam events.
He moved to the prestigious Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris at age 13, before later basing himself at the National Tennis Centre at DCU, and at 21 becoming the youngest Irish winner of a professional tennis tournament.
He has effectively lived out of a suitcase for the past six years,
This week, Barry announced his retirement from professional tennis at the age of just 27. The Limerick man said he was calling time with a “lifetime full of memories’ and thanked all those who played their part. Over and out!”
Former Ireland number one Barry won six professional tennis singles titles and 22 professional doubles titles during his distinguished career in which he also played Davis Cup for Ireland. He reached a career high world ranking of 255.
Showing enormous promise from his earliest days playing tennis at the nearby Limerick Lawn Tennis Club, Sam left Ardscoil Ris at the end of first year to take up a place at Mouratoglou Tennis Academy.
Barry recalled: “I knew Christmas in first year in secondary school that I was going to be doing my first year exams and then I would be going to France that summer for a couple of years.
“I was comfortable, happy out and surrounded by tennis excellence really. I look back on my time in Paris with nothing but fond memories now.
“The kids were from all over the world. Marcos Baghdatis was there, he was older than me, the poster boy for the Academy, he was the best junior player in the world and within two years of graduating to pro ranks he was a top 10 player in the world. I would be chatting to him and playing PlayStation with him in the evening time at the academy.
“My second last match for Ireland in the Davis Cup was against him. It’s funny how things turned out.
“My coach at the Academy was Stéphane Huet. He had beaten Ivan Lendl in the French Open at one stage. He wasn’t just a coach, but an uncle figure.
“I promised my mom I would have a book in one hand and a racquet in the other while in Paris.
“I came home to Limerick and did my Junior Cert at the end of my the academy in Paris.
“I came back to Ireland later again and started training out of the National Tennis Centre at DCU.
“I managed to play in all four Slams at Junior level and won a round in Australia and the US Open in singles and doubles.”
Barry got to play tennis with and against some of the best in the game. At 19, he was a practice partner for Rafa Nadal at the O2 Masters in London, which features the world’s top eight players.
After turning professional in late 2010, Barry immediately reached the quarter-final of his first tournament, the F29 Futures in Naples.
He was up and running and for the past eight years he played on the Futures and ATP Challenger Tours, experiencing the ups and downs of life as a pro.
Explaining his reason for retiring from the professional circuit, Barry said: “There are a number of reasons behind my decision.
“I think financially it is definitely really tough. I had lost my sponsors. I had got injured. I had made a really big sacrifice to go down and train in New Zealand for two months at the end of the 2017 season and start of 2018 season.
“That was the first time in my whole career that I was able to do a proper pre-season. Then, in my first tournament of the 2018 season, I tore a tendon in my elbow which was a bit of a bummer so I had just gone down and worked my ass off for two months and now I am out for pretty much the first four months of the season.
“That was difficult. I guess having been seven or eight years on the road, living out of a suitcase, you are a little bit tired at that stage and you come home - a breaking point.
“From there it became very obvious I wasn’t going to be able to keep on my sponsors for the next year.
“That was probably the first time in my career that I really started to find the tour difficult in terms of a mental point of view. Obviously there are challenges when you are winning and losing, spending a lot of time on your own, but to pick myself up and dust myself down from that one was particularly tough and I don’t know if I was ever able to do it.
“I started chasing it and maybe went back a couple of times too early when I should have taken a break earlier in the year and maybe I would still be playing tennis if that was the case, but because I pushed it, ultimately I was knackered,” admitted a determined Barry.
“When I got home and got a bit of space I kinda realised that tennis doesn’t have to me my whole life and eventually came to the conclusion that it might be smart for me to move on instead of coming back at the start of this year, turning 27, from a ranking all the way back at zero in the world with no sponsor, I was just like, ‘well, maybe the more mature call and the right thing for me to do is to step away from the game and get the rest of my life sorted.
“It wasn’t like, ‘I am over this, I am sick of tennis, I don’t want to be a tennis player any more’, it was more a decision based on the more measured thing to do for my life as a whole.
“That is what ended up doing it for me, if I am being honest.
“I have missed it hugely in the time since I haven’t been playing. I think I will never be able to re-create that buzz of competing. No matter what I do in life I think I will find it very difficult to care about something, unless maybe one day a wife and kids. Tennis was such a huge part of my life and I was so passionate about it.”
So what’s next for Barry?
“I want to go out and broaden my horizons and see what else is out there, whether it’s business or whatever and start at the bottom of the pile somewhere.
“It would be easy stay in my comfort zone, stay in tennis, but it would be nice to go and do something completely different for a while.
“I don’t know exactly what that is yet, maybe something in the corporate world for a while, just to see how that goes.
“I am sure tennis will always be a big part of my life,” he added.