Hamish Stewart on his first season on tour, training in Scotland and what 2024 holds
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Tennis Scotland caught up with 2023 TS Open Tour Finals men's champion Hamish Stewart as he reflected on his first season on the pro circuit, training in Stirling and his 2024 ambitions.
Hamish played his first season on tour since returning from the United States, where he completed his undergraduate degree at Tulane University and a postgraduate degree at the University of Georgia.
Rising more than 780 spots in the ATP rankings during his first year, he finished 2023 with a career-high ranking of 651. The second half of the season saw him reach at least the quarter-finals in eight consecutive tournaments, making his first singles final in France in October. He also won his second career pro doubles title with George Houghton in Spain.
On the TS Open Tour, the 24-year-old won the National Doubles Championships alongside Ewen Lumsden and finished the season by winning the TS Open Tour Finals in December.
Stewart has been practising at the National Tennis Centre at the University of Stirling, where Tennis Scotland has introduced integrated training for players on the National Performance Programme (NPP).
As well as coaching in Stirling, the programme also includes support at tournaments.
2023 was your first full year of professional tennis - what was it like?
It’s been a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It’s been really tough at times, but the highs have been really fun and there were some reward towards the end of the year. You need to have a lot of perseverance, but it’s been good so far.
You had a very strong second half of the year, climbing the rankings, so what changed?
Halfway through the year, I started to do more work with [Tennis Scotland performance coaches] Toby Smith and Adam Lownsbrough and they helped a lot. They came to a couple of tournaments and I did well and got some confidence from there. I used that momentum to go into the end of the year - those two have been a massive help and I've been able to push on since then.
You studied for your undergraduate at Tulane and your masters at University of Georgia - has that experience played a role in the transition to the professional game?
For sure. I definitely don’t think I'd have the chance to play professional tennis without those years at university. It gave me time to develop, to figure out where my level was compared to a lot of the other top college players and if it would be worth taking a shot at professional tennis. I developed in school physically and matured a lot. For me personally, this was the perfect way to do it.
What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve found on tour?
I remember speaking to Jonny (O’Mara) at the start of the year and he was saying it was going to be tough. I think professional sports can often come across as glamorous, but it’s a grind. Once you get the results, though, it's worth it.
All the travelling is challenging, but the biggest change is getting used to the lows, to losing, but building up the perseverance and hard skin to come back. Saying to yourself that 'it’s been a hard week but you have another right around the corner'.
Sometimes you lose a match and a couple of days later you're starting the week again from the first round. It’s unlike college where you have a week to reset with your team. It’s a quick turnaround and perseverance has been the biggest thing I've learned this year.
There are a number of Scottish players based at Stirling at the moment, all playing pro events - what’s that environment like?
There’s definitely been the creation of a culture, we now have a bunch of us who are in the same boat, doing the same thing. Since that environment has been set up, I think it’s been really good and for me it’s made a huge difference. I think some of the other players have made big strides in their games as well, we’re all getting better and it’s a lot of fun.
How has playing on the TS Open Tour helped?
All of us players who are playing ITF events week in, week out have to subsidise our tennis, and big prize-money tournaments in Scotland, within driving distance and held over a couple of days, is something we’re very lucky to have.
You had some time off over the festive period, what do you most look forward to away from the court?
Being in the same place for an extended period of time! Not travelling is nice, so just to spending some time with my friends and family. We’ve been in training already and working hard in pre-season, working with the Insitute (the sportscotland Institute of Sport provides support in the form physical health, performance lifestyle and medical assistance) but it’s just a good time to reset and refresh as 2023 was a long year.
Whenever I'm home, I try to see my mates. We live in the country so I just like to get out and go for walks and try to relax - and play some video games with friends too.
What does 2024 look like for you?
Couple of 25K tournaments at the start of the year in the UK, then I’m keen to explore the ATP Challenger Tour, now I'm in a place to get into the qualifying draws of some of them.
I definitely want to dip my feet in, see the level, see how these guys approach the tournaments and get to know the difference between Futures (ITF) and Challengers (ATP).
I want to get some strong results at Challenger level and then hopefully by the time the summer comes around, I'll be able to make a good push on the grass.