Bearsden’s Aidan McHugh is hoping his tennis career is about to enter a challenging period - in more ways than one.
The 19-year-old is nearing the end of his second year as a senior pro - and during his recent trip home for the Murray Trophy - Glasgow he took time out to chat to the Milngavie & Bearsden Herald.
Year one saw Aidan’s world ranking soar from 1858 to 501.
Progression in year two hasn’t been quite so marked, but that’s down to the increased quality of opponent he is facing on a regular basis.
And with three ITF Futures tournament wins under his belt in the past year, it is still heading in the right direction as he now targets gaining entry to Challenger events, the next level up on the circuit.
He said: “At the beginning you’re making big jumps because any sort of results in tournaments shoot you up the rankings.
“It’s been a bit of a grind to be honest. The beginning of the year was tough with a lot of 15K Futures which are at the beginning of the men’s professional tour.
“There’s a lot of training and a lot of travelling and it can be mentally very challenging but I think I’m getting better at trying to enjoy the process, focussing and developing my game and physically getting stronger.
“It’s all the hard work which will get what I want, which is good wins against good players and now I’m starting to get the chance to play in a few Challengers off my own ranking.”
Aidan does have one advantage not available to most - the support and encouragement of a rather well-known Scottish tennis family.
He has trained with both Andy and Jamie Murray, both during and out of season - and is grateful to be able to soak up the vast experience and advice they can offer him.
He said: “Jamie’s the first one that kind of mentored me when I was a good bit younger. He invited me to his off-season training when I was maybe 15 or 16.
“For me obviously Jamie and Andy are people that I looked up to massively when I was growing up.
“That’s why I play the sport, that’s where I want to get to and they’re a big reason why I started playing and kept playing.
“Their being from Scotland gave me a lot of belief and confidence and the fact that they’ve been there and done it as players is easier to relate to for me rather than speaking to people who maybe haven’t experienced tournaments or off-the-court, travelling.
“There’s other difficulties that you go through, mentally as well, that can be really draining and they’re really good with advice because you know they’ve done everything that you’ve experienced.
“If I’ve got any questions or want to ask them for advice they’re very open. They’re obviously a good laugh as well, they’re easy to talk to and want me to do well.
“I think both of them are very driven with their training, their physical work.
“A lot of that stuff you don’t see and being able to be there off-season was a good opportunity to see how they get a lot of their work done going into a new season - just to see how much they are training and really trying to push themselves.
“They’re really good to look up to and I’m lucky to have them as options to go and speak to and learn from.”
Aidan is also quick to credit the influence his local club Thorn Park had in his early development - and very much supports the tennis authorities’ efforts to encourage more youngsters to take up the sport.
He said: “I think that’s massive - the more courts and the more facilities the better.
“It’s a big thing the LTA and Tennis Scotland have been trying to do, to make tennis more accessible for as many kids as they can and capitalise on Andy and Jamie’s success and get as many kids as they can playing the sport as young as possible.
“If they enjoy it they’re going to keep doing it and the bigger the numbers the better.
“A lot of the top countries in the world that are good at tennis have got so many courts and it’s such an easy thing for families and young kids to pick up rackets and start playing.”
Aidan was delighted to support Thorn Park’s unveiling of their new clay courts earlier this year - although his first ever visit to the club, just a couple of minutes from the family home, didn’t quite go as planned.
He said: “I don’t remember what age I was but the first time I went to play I was messing about with my elder brother Liam and fell over and cut my hand pretty badly before I actually got to the club.
“So I didn’t end up playing that week and it wasn’t until the next time that we decided to go back that I started playing. I just really enjoyed it and kept playing and if you are quite good at something when you’re younger you just want to keep doing it.
“Looking back the fact that the club was round the corner from me really helped.
“I genuinely think that is a big thing, that if there are more courts, it’s as simple as that, kids go and try it one day and really like it.”
Aidan McHugh is supported by the LTA’s The Pro Scholarship Programme, tailored for players aged 16 to 24 who have the greatest potential to reach the Top 100 within five years. It provides world class coaching for the player’s needs, access to physio, lifestyle, wellbeing, strength and conditioning coaching at the National Tennis Centre, and wild card opportunities into events.