By Giri Nathan
If you’ve spent enough time staring at the U.S. Open practice courts over the past few years, you might have been entranced by a mysterious, reedy figure. Chris Eubanks is 6 foot 7, and the figure he cuts on a tennis court is unlike any other. The lines are almost dancerly, the serves are monstrous, and the one-handed backhand is rare on a player of his stature. “Giraffe” and “daddy longlegs” were apt nicknames offered by his friend Sloane Stephens last month. Watching Eubanks try to qualify in Queens, August after August, I figured he’d be a fantastic watch, if only he could piece together a few wins at a big event—and now he’s done it. After this career run in Miami, the 26-year-old will enter the top 100. One month you’re crashing out first-round at the Monterrey Challenger; the next month you’re serve-and-volleying in a quarterfinal of a Masters with Jamie Foxx sitting in your box and delivering mid-match pep talks. Tennis is wild that way.
It’s possible that if you’ve seen Chris Eubanks on your TV screen at all, it’s as a (sharp, good-humored) tennis commentator, rather than tennis participant. But he’s always had game, if not quite the results to match. He grew up in Atlanta, where he trained with his friend, and erstwhile great American hope, Donald Young. By Eubanks’ own admission, he did not pop as a junior player, but he did travel as an occasional hitting partner for Young, getting some early exposure to tour-level strokes. After his junior year at Georgia Tech, he dropped out and went pro. Almost immediately, he picked up his first two ATP-level wins at the 2017 Atlanta Open. He then spent several seasons dipping in and out of the top 200, hunting consistency. At the 2022 U.S. Open, six whole years after receiving his first main-draw wild card there, he notched his first career win at a Slam. This year in Australia, he got his second.
But heading into Miami, Eubanks had actually lost four straight matches. Perched at No. 102, on the cusp of a long-awaited achievement, he’d faltered. “Thinking about top 100 and everything, I had some losses I shouldn’t have had and was really second-guessing a lot about my game,” he said in Miami, tearing up, awash with the relief of crossing that threshold. “This week I said, ‘Delete the rankings app and focus on playing every single match.’” He survived three rounds of qualifying. In his second-round match, he went down a set and a break to Borna Coric, the No. 17 seed (on paper at least), only to spring back and win in three. A third-round, start-and-stop, rain-spattered match against Adrian Mannarino went Eubanks’ way too, in two tiebreaks. During one of those rain delays, he ran into his pal Frances Tiafoe in the locker room. “I said something like, ‘Yeah, hopefully I find my range in case this goes three.’ And Frances was like, ‘Man, forget that! You can go out there and win seven points in a row!’ Those were his exact words to me…. I was like, you know what? That’s a good idea.”
Eubanks wound down his run with an admirable 6–3, 7–5 battle against Daniil Medvedev on Thursday. During that rain delay, the words of encouragement came from Jamie Foxx: “Chris Who-banks? Chris Eubanks!” (They’ve been friends for a few years. The entertainer once attempted to return serve and was instead bowled over by it.) The soon-to-be world No. 85 leaves town with some $185K and a wholly new vantage point. If not for this run, Eubanks said, he’d have been preparing to head to South Korea for three weeks of Challengers. Now he might instead angle for European clay and ramp up to the French Open. Ranking points are a powerful accelerant to a tennis season. “If Chris managed to play how he did this tournament, he’s going to go up, up, and up,” said Medvedev after their match. “You never know if it’s top 10, top 50; it’s a question of consistency.” Let’s see if he’s found it.
Above: Chris Eubanks cracks the Top 100 in Miami. (Getty)