Aussie battlers reach holy grail
THE closest Alex Bolt came to playing tennis for most of 2016 was building mesh fences around courts in South Australia.
A prodigious talent, Bolt was demotivated, disillusioned and ready for fresh horizons.
He'd bagged his racquets for the last time, terminating an abbreviated career. Or so he thought.
"In 2016, I lost the love and the drive to want to compete and play tennis," he said.
"I battled for a month or so and I wasn't enjoying myself on the court.
"I decided that if I wasn't enjoying myself, there was just no point so I decided to take some time away.
"I was putting up fences around tennis courts, that mesh fencing.
"When I first stopped, I never thought I'd pick up a tennis racquet again."
Fast forward to a gorgeous summer's day at Roehampton on Thursday and world No 205 Bolt revelled in the acme of an improbable comeback, beating good mate Thanasi Kokkinakis in the final round of Wimbledon qualifying to reach the main draw.
"It's kinda cool looking back on how far I've come since 2016, it's a bit surreal really," Bolt, 25, said.
Like Jason Kubler, and unlike the impressively persistent John-Patrick Smith - both fellow qualifiers - Bolt tired of tennis' unseen grind.
For every millionaire in the top 30, there are hundreds of pros struggling on the breadline - financially and emotionally.
"I started my tennis journey pretty late, as opposed to everybody else," Bolt said.
"I really only started taking it seriously when I was 18.
"Everything then was a novelty, sort of, I was doing it all for the first time and then I got to a career-high ranking (No 160) and everything was going wonderful.
"The next year I wasn't winning as many matches and not playing as good a tournaments.
"I was going to rougher places, you could say, and it was kinda getting to me.
"I wasn't having any fun and it's tough when you're battling on the Futures level, you're not making any money at all, hardly breaking even.
"It was a really tough time.'
Like Kubler, also 25, Bolt refused to surrender.
"It just goes to show if you persist and keep at your dreams anything can happen," he said.
"With Lleyton (Hewitt) in my corner, it's been great to have there and also on-court with me as well.
"It's just been an unreal experience."
Bolt and Hewitt will contest doubles as a Wimbledon wildcard.
Kubler's journey has been just as riveting.
A gun junior, he has struggled with dodgy knees and, resultingly, concentrated on clay tournaments.
Wimbledon qualifying was just the sixth grass court event of his career.
"It's unreal, unreal. I've had probably the best 12 months of my life," he said.
"I've come from not really knowing if I was going to continue playing tennis to qualifying at Wimbledon, so it's a big jump and I'm pretty happy.
"When I go to Wimbledon now, I'm gonna feel that I actually belong there."
Smith, 29, is renowned for his grit and tenacity.
He has contested qualifying here for the past six years and has now earned his second main draw berth.
"I think this is probably my best level right now … pretty confident entering Monday or Tuesday," the Queenslander said.
"Serving a little better or smarter, a little more finesse on my volleys - bringing them in, moving them back.
"All the little things, I'm doing better."