October 4, 2023

Christmas Day and Turkey naturally go together, but for British tennis player Billy Harris they proved an unusual combination this year.

While people back home were happily scoffing their dinner, the GB hopeful was actually playing a match, en route to reaching his first professional final in a Turkish tournament that ploughed on through the festive period.

Harris, 25, has found himself marooned on his own in the Mediterranean resort of Antalya, playing the lowest tier of the pro tour and unable to get home due to Covid restrictions.

He used the time well, winning his quarter final of the ‘Futures’ event on Christmas Day before making the final, in which he lost to Ukrainian opponent Georgii Kravchenko.

Watching a live stream back home in the Isle of Man were his parents and three siblings, who he had originally planned to join after spending nearly two months on the road.

Instead he ate Christmas dinner at his largely deserted hotel with a Japanese player who speaks little English, and the visiting Belarus Olympic Kayaking squad.

Harris, ranked 19 in the UK and 708 in the world, is used to living in straitened circumstances. He spent two previous years travelling around Europe in a Ford Transit van playing tournaments while trying to build up his ranking.

‘It was certainly a different Christmas,’ says Harris, who is still there waiting for another tournament to begin next week. ‘I celebrated by adding a schnitzel to my spaghetti bolognese that night.’

He has been anxious to maximise playing opportunities, having had his solid if unspectacular career progress interrupted last year by a hip injury – sustained when he fell off a running machine at an event in Thailand.

‘I’ve been away since the end of October playing tournaments in Greece and Turkey and I was keen to get home. But with the extra travel restrictions coming in I realised if I did that I may struggle to get back out again, as there a very few tournaments on anywhere right now.

‘It’s already very strict getting back to the Isle of Man as you have to isolate somewhere on your own for two weeks, so I thought it was better to stick it out as they are putting on more events here from next week.

‘It has certainly been a different Christmas but maybe it helped my tennis. I thought I had to focus hard to make the best of it.’

Harris is one of pro tennis’s many unknown soldiers who, even in normal times, inhabit a world far removed from the chauffeur-driven luxuries of ATP Tour level.

He survives on paltry prize money, support from his sponsors Auxesia Homes and Alexander and James Sofas, plus his sideline of preparing rackets for other players on a mobile stringing machine.

‘You’ve got to do what you can to give yourself a chance,’ says the 6′ 3′ Manx, who unusually for a Brit likes playing on clay courts.

‘I took the van round Europe so I could play on the clay and it’s a cheap way of doing it. I could sleep in the back of it and park up either at the tennis club or the local MacDonald’s, they are the best because you can normally stay overnight. It kind of sounds fun but occasionally it’s scary because there are some strange characters around.’

Harris is hoping to find a few more kindred spirits in the new year. Antalya is one of several resorts – Egypt’s Sharm El Sheik is another – who stage repeat lower league ranking events as a way of attracting customers out of season.

‘It’s very quiet here this week, other players have gone home and there are a just a few elderly Russian tourists about, one or two of them come to watch the matches. I’m going to play some more tournaments until February as my goal is to get my ranking down to 500. After that I will try and go back for some UK events if they are on. I will definitely be ready for home by then.’


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