Making a living as a professional athlete is for a very few. Making a good living is for a tiny percentage of the very few. Introducing Zeke Hindle (real name), 27, professional tennis player. Zeke abides in the lowest rung of professional tennis, “futures” tournaments.
He was in Egypt, playing tennis, when the riots went off, and he was still in Egypt, playing tennis, when Morsi was overthrown. I heard Zeke was back in town and arranged to meet. We talked for more than an hour. Follows is some of what he said.
“I was born in Santa Monica in 1986. My mom was a ballerina. My dad is an actor and does administrative work for the Screen Actors Guild.
“I went to Loyola High School. I was overweight, a total dork. I picked up tennis when I was 15, 16. Had a lot of doubts [about tennis] and still have a lot of doubts. It was tougher for me because a lot of the guys I competed against had been playing since they were four or five years old. I started so late, I had to lose a lot. That’s still with me, losing a lot.
“I trained with a Swedish coach [Evert Kruse] from 16 to 20. He’s the one that got me believing in myself. I played in junior tournaments, probably ranked 200 in California, which is not good. It’s not bad, but for what I wanted to do in tennis it wasn’t that good.
“I worked to support my tennis. Got a job at 24 Hour Fitness, worked retail sales at Abercrombie & Fitch, was certified as a masseur, did massage for awhile, detailed cars with friends, and did yard work.
“Futures tournaments go all over the U.S. There’s about 40 tournaments a year on the circuit. I played tournaments in Southern California, won a couple matches, but didn’t do too well. I ended up ranked as hundred-and-something in the nation.
“I started playing full time. One summer I drove cross-country three times. Stayed in people’s houses. You show up the day before the tournament and sign in. That national ranking gets you in. If you don’t have a national ranking, you can still get in, but you’ll get pushed out if enough people with ranking sign up.”
Last summer, Zeke took a trip to Tibet with his fiancée — also an expert tennis player — and her father and uncle. When the couple returned, they needed to make a decision.
“She was uncertain whether or not she wanted to play. There’s no way I could travel internationally without her help. Finally, we decided to go to Turkey for 12 weeks. They have men’s and women’s tournaments in the same location. Twelve tournaments, each tournament is a week. When one tournament ends, qualifying starts for the next tournament.
“I played singles and doubles. There’s no qualifying for doubles. You get in on your ranking or you don’t. In qualifying tournaments, you have to win anywhere from two to four matches to get into the tournament. That’s when you play for money and play for points. It’s called, ‘By qualifying in the main draw.’ Every tournament is set up like that. Wimbledon is set up like that. I got through qualifying three times and lost close ones in the main draw.”
Zeke and his fiancée moved on to Greece for three weeks of tournaments. Then, his lady returned to California, Zeke continued to tour, arriving in Cairo on June 1.
“I’d heard about [the uprising]. I knew there were protests, so I didn’t arrive on the weekend. I heard they protest every weekend, march on the streets. I wasn’t there, so I didn’t see anything; it was just a crowded, impoverished city from what I saw.
“I was playing tennis in a resort city called Sharm el-Sheikh, 500 kilometers from Cairo. I played five tournaments in a row, from June 1 to July 4.
“I lost some close ones to guys who are 300 or 400 in the world. In hindsight, I had a lot of opportunities to do well and get some points. Came up a little short. I did my best with what I had at the time, so I don’t feel too badly.
“Leaving Egypt wasn’t bad at all; it was very routine. The news makes it look totally different than what it actually was. Staying in Sharm el-Sheikh, you would not know anything was happening; it’s like staying in Palm Springs and there’s something going on in Chicago. You wouldn’t see it. There were more guys with AK-47s at the airport than when I arrived. That was the only difference. It was a normal go-to-the-airport-and-fly-home. There was nothing I could see that said revolution.”