11th August, 2020

Dan Cox opens up on mental struggles in tennis

Dan Cox is acutely aware of the brutal realities facing lower-ranked players in the ruthless tennis world.

The Lincoln player, 29, has been through a rollercoaster last four years both on and off the court, hanging up his racket in 2017 before getting an extended taste of what ‘normal life’ was like.

Marriage with his partner, Jola, soon followed and then the foundation of the Lincoln Tennis Academy, as Cox set about disseminating his expertise to the next generation of talent.

But now he’s back on the courts. The inaugural UK Pro Series has helped revitalise Cox’s tennis career, catalysing his return to action after Jola convinced him to pick up his racket once more during lockdown.

It’s been a tale of relentless adversity and financial difficulty and Cox has vivid memories of those dark days of ‘second guessing’ and self-‘doubt’.

“I wanted to feel more stable in my life,” he reflected.

“As a professional tennis player you’re always earning different day-to-day amounts – it’s not like being employed when you’re guaranteed money.

“It was really hard as a player – you can struggle for money, and one week you can earn nothing and are in the minus, then you have one good week and that sets you up for the next month.

“It’s just very unpredictable. You’ve also got that pressure of thinking ‘oh god, if I don’t win this match I could be struggling next week and I might not be able to go away’.

“From such a young age, I was relying on winning to go to the next tournament, so it was a lot of pressure and uncertainty on myself.

“It affects everything mentally. You’re always second-guessing and doubting yourself, so it’s not what you need.

“It’s always there and the first thing you think of – sometimes you do need a little bit of pressure but not so much that it really affects you.”

Cox played in pre-qualifying for Wimbledon 2017 before making the decision to retire from tennis, turning his hand to coaching and founding the Lincoln Tennis Academy shortly after.

A wedding with Jola came next as Cox diligently managed domestic and professional life, earning a stable source of income for the first time in years after his early struggles for money through playing.

He says he was better off financially, mentally and academically because of those years and looks back fondly on his professional playing sabbatical.

“I had a bit of a normal life – I got married, set up a tennis club, coached some juniors and that enabled me to see a different side of tennis,” he added.

“I think I learned a lot from teaching other people about the game – I learned that I need to listen to myself more and analyse my own game.

“I’ve matured a little bit like that. I’m learning from previous mistakes and I’m benefiting from it now.

“I think I was a happier person during those three years – I did miss the game a lot, when I looked at my peers still playing and being successful.

“It’s a tough world and I’m glad that I’m getting back into it. I feel healthy, and it took a bit of pressure off and showed me what I can do after I stopped playing.”

Cox is now one of 24 leading players duelling it out in the UK Pro Series Classic Week in Weybridge, competing against a glittering array of talent including Harriet Dart and Eden Silva in the women’s draw and James Ward and Liam Broady in the men’s.

The innovative format, played at St. George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club, was devised by Andy Murray’s coach, Jamie Delgado, with players being split into two boxes of six ahead of finals weekend.

Cox is thrilled to be back out competing at the innovative tournament – organised by River Media Partners – and is targeting a long and illustrious future in the sport – both playing and beyond.

“It’s a great way for me to get back into playing and I’m feeling great at the minute,” he said.

“The way they’ve come up with the income for the players is absolutely fantastic. It’s given us all something to do during this difficult time, so everybody wins.

“The aim is to play in more events like this and keep going for as long as the body lets me – I just need to try to be patient and keep the ball rolling.

“I always had that worry in the back of my mind about ‘what am I going to do once I stop’, but now I know what I can go back to when I stop and that makes me more comfortable.

“I think I will go back to coaching when I retire – I’m coaching some pretty good juniors and can still help them. They’re watching me this week on the live streams and that will show them how I want them to act and play on the court.

“I think it will be a good experience for me to get fresh memories from playing so I can really relate back to them.”