Precocious tennis talent Tad Maclean cannot wait to get back on the court this year after surgery and the covid-19 outbreak kept him sidelined, writes Andrew Clayton.
The 19-year-old learned the ropes at his home club, the Heron Tennis Centre in Newquay, and has since enjoyed a rise through the ranks, taking him all the way to Alabama, in the United States, on a university scholarship.
While the ongoing pandemic means Maclean is back in the West Country now, living in Torquay, he is making the most of the Lawn Tennis Association’s latest advice on playing the game and getting practice in where he can.
Looking forward to the end of summer, when the American tennis season begins, Maclean tells The Independent that he is optimistic for the sport’s return.
“I think America is a bit more crazy with it than we are; it seems as if things are going back to normal over there and we could have online classes in the fall, but tennis will most definitely be back on,” he said.
“The outbreak was getting big over there, and decisions were being made every day based on what the government, the school and the tennis conference said.”
Maclean studies at Auburn University, where he is close to finishing his junior, or third year, and is a regular for the Auburn Tigers men’s tennis team.
Despite starting his course early in 2018, at just 17 years of age, the Cornishman has been getting to grips with the level required out there, profiting from the tutelage of former world number 63, Bobby Reynolds.
Although Tad missed out on playing this year after undergoing surgery, he cannot wait to get back to competing.
He explained: “The level out there is so good – it’s only just a notch down from playing pro. Last year, me and my doubles partner went to the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in Orlando, won our first round and narrowly went out to the number one ranked doubles pair in the country.
“I didn’t compete at all in this past year, and right now is the first time I’ve really been able to play. I had two elbow surgeries – I was struggling with nerve pain in my funny bones from February 2019, so I had transposition surgery around October on my left arm, then on my right arm in January this year.
“Honestly, we haven’t done too well as a team because the Southeastern Conference, where the school plays, is so tough – it’s probably the best in America. But, it’s great because we get to play such good teams each week, and there’s quite a few Brits competing too. I think this year, starting in the fall, will be one of our best.”
Despite being over 4,000 miles away, Maclean has not forgotten his formative years in the Duchy. With the support of his mum, Cindy, and under the stewardship of Heron Centre coach, Steve Askey, Tad began his climb up the ladder, winning the County Men’s Doubles Championship in 2015.
He then moved to Bath, to access the University’s High Performance Programme, went on to play at junior Wimbledon and became the second-youngest British player to earn an Association of Tennis Professionals point.
For Maclean, though, those years training and playing in Cornwall are what shaped his way into the sport, and he holds high hopes of making a name for himself on the courts after graduation in 2022.
“Looking ahead, I’m definitely going to play tennis,” he added. “That’s my goal – to finish school and go and play on the court – and I think I can do it. Looking back, I honestly don’t feel like I was that great as a junior, but I started to win matches, won the Cornwall County Championships and went on to play in nationals. It was hard getting around, and I think it’s always tough in most sports when you’re based in Cornwall. My mum has done everything she can to help get me where I am, but she’s a teacher so I was catching the train up by myself and had to learn to be independent. I’d definitely say that the Heron Centre is where I learned everything though, foundations-wise. I’d finish school and head straight down there, playing adults or with my friends, and that’s where I started to love tennis.
“Steve and the other coaches there are great. I definitely think it’s one of the best setups we have here in Cornwall, they’re great for bringing on younger players. It’s not what you’d think a tennis club would be like, it’s so family-orientated and friendly. I think that’s why they do so well.”