Evan Hoyt knows all about dealing with disappointment.
At 22, the Welshman – who started playing tennis aged four, after his parents moved back to the UK from Mexico – is still relatively near the beginning of his career. Once a keen rugby player who represented West Wales, Hoyt turned his full attention to tennis aged 12. He has since helped Great Britain claim their maiden junior Davis Cup title, and trained with all-time legend Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Nevertheless, physical issues have sidelined the former rising star with painful regularity.
“I’ve had some long, tough injuries,” Hoyt acknowledges. “When I first left juniors, I played about six months injury free. Then I picked up a stress fracture on my back which kept me out for nearly a year.”
Back in April, twelve months after striking career highs in both singles and doubles, the Llanelli resident was ranking-less. And yet again, the free-fall had been no fault of his own.
“After 2014 I was back playing healthy for a year, but it took me a while to pick it up again after being out for so long,” Hoyt reflected at the time. “And now this shoulder injury has kept me out for another year.”
As though his many physical setbacks were not enough, the Cardiff-based pro is also enduring the relentless struggles that threaten nearly every tennis hopeful ranked outside the top 200.
“The biggest strain is financial,” Hoyt, who mainly competes on the Futures circuit, reveals. “If you don’t progress quickly, you’re not playing the bigger tournaments where you can pick up bigger prize money. And unless you’re kind of like a ‘rising star’, sponsors aren’t really interested in helping you. In Futures events, I’d say you have to make semifinals or better to break even each week – and that’s if you’re spending minimal amounts on hotels and flights.”
He continues: “Paying for coaching, travelling, accommodation… it all adds up. Even stuff like injury. I’ve had no medical insurance, I’ve had surgery privately, so it’s huge costs that you can incur.”
But Hoyt – who duelled with top ATP youngsters like Nick Kyrgios and Borna Coric in his junior days – is resilient. He showed as much after a notable blow in 2013. Then a teenager, Hoyt’s plans of playing college tennis in America were scuppered due to a contract he had signed with sports management agency IMG two years prior. IMG represented the junior for a mere ten weeks, but it saw him break the amateur code strictly upheld by the American collegiate system. He was ineligible to attend university.
“It was disappointing,” the right-hander admits. “A tennis player’s is a long road, and most top 100 players these days are 27, 28… So going to college for three or four years and still being able to improve was a good option. But I don’t look back and get down about it, because the door is closed. I left it in the past.”
Challenges such as these have called upon Hoyt’s creative streak. During his tumultuous 2014 season, the Welsh prospect wrote articles on Wimbledon qualifying action for the Lawn Tennis Association. It was around this time that he began his blog.
“[I want to cover] interesting topics, and shed some light on the journey of a tennis player,” Hoyt says. “Not many fans, and even younger players, understand the process you have to go through to get to the top.”
The world’s top 50, and a regular spot on the main ATP World Tour, remain key goals of Hoyt’s. And the 22-year-old is working hard both on and off the court to hit these targets – using several unique strategies.
“I introduced crowdfunding to my website,” he explains. “Just a little section where you can read about my story, and see if I can get some donations. There have been quite a few supporters, so I am really appreciative to them.”
And his most faithful helpers have gone beyond simply assisting Hoyt with money.
“I once went to Belgium to play a series of five tournaments, and a lady offered for me to use her apartment,” Hoyt shares. “So I had accommodation for three of the five weeks, where all of the tournaments were roughly within 30 minutes of the apartment.
“In Britain I tend to stay with family friends if there’s someone in the area. Being able to drive is helpful, so even if I’ve got friends half an hour or 45 minutes away from the venue, I can do that.”
For most competitors, there is more adversity than enjoyment along the road to tennis success. Indeed, it all became too much for former British prodigy Oliver Golding back in 2014. Hoyt once lived with the 2011 US Open junior champion, and understood better than most the 23-year-old’s shock decision to abandon the sport.
“He was doing really consistently well at the time,” Hoyt recalls. “But I think he just didn’t really enjoy the lifestyle. Travelling week to week kind of got to him in the end. He preferred to settle down and be in one place.”
But surprisingly, Golding decided to give tennis another go as recently as August – and has compiled an impressive 18 wins to three losses since his return. Last week saw him competing in Nottingham, where Hoyt himself finally made his long-awaited comeback to the Futures tour: successfully qualifying for the main draw before falling to 6th seed Evan Furness. It was a later reappearance than he had hoped for, but Hoyt had prepared as well as possible.
“Serving brought on the pain, so I’ve actually been able to train a lot from the back of the court whilst I’ve been injured,” Hoyt revealed in April, adding: “But it’ll take two or three weeks before I can get back to full hitting and full serving. And then I’ll need a good month of training to get back in the groove.”
While he had the opportunity to train with Milos Raonic during that period of slow progression, it has been a long and frustrating wait for Hoyt to get back to the tour himself. And even now that initial step of contesting an ITF match is complete, the Brit – still without a professional ranking – remains at the foot of a mountain. But he appears ready to take on the climb.
Lately, Hoyt has watched largely from the sidelines as former contemporaries – such as Kyle Edmund and Alexander Zverev – have soared up the rankings. But the two-time ATP Futures champion is persevering, continually inspired by the hero of his youth.
“My favourite player was always Nadal,” Hoyt recalls. “I remember watching him play Davis Cup for the first time, and I’d never seen him before – I think he was 17 at the time. I just loved his intensity and determination on the court.”
Determination is exactly what will be required if Llanelli’s hope is to fulfil his dreams. He is starting from scratch once again as he return to competition. But he faces the future with his focus trained on the road ahead – and not the successes of former rivals.
“I try not to compare myself to other players,” Hoyt says. “We’re all on different journeys.”