British tennis player Liam Broady has revealed how mental health struggles led him to consider quitting the sport last season.
The 25-year-old is currently ranked 335, close to 200 places lower than the career high he achieved last April, but tennis is once again making him happy.
“I’m feeling great, better than I ever have on court, so I’m pretty sure the results will start following soon,” he told Press Association Sport.
At one stage last season Broady lost eight matches in a row and a lack of success on court had a dramatic effect on his well-being, something he has addressed by working with life coach Phil Quirk.
He said: “I wasn’t sure if it was what I wanted to do any more because I didn’t feel happy as a person, and I fell out of touch with a lot of people who care about me, which I think is probably a very guy thing to do.
“On tour it’s kind of a dog-eat-dog world, you don’t want to show weakness to anyone else, you don’t want to say you’re struggling because they’re trying to take food off your plate and you’re trying to take food off theirs.
“I don’t really like to complain about stuff and I only started to realise how much I was going through the motions towards the end of the year.
“I called Naomi after the French Open and I was really upset, and that was a bit weird because I don’t really get upset around anyone, but I didn’t really feel like I had anyone else to talk to.”
Naomi is his 29-year-old sister and fellow player, who found herself in the role of counsellor.
“There’s so much talk in this country at the moment surrounding men’s mental health, and I think it’s really important with the (suicide) statistics we have, so I was really glad he did reach out,” she said.
Naomi has had her own struggles, particularly around travel – she overcame a fear of flying after the pilot father of a fellow player gave her a flying-with-confidence course – and she values the services of a mental health professional available through the WTA.
She said: “I went through a phase of having terrible anxiety, which I still deal with now, and sometimes panic attacks, and then you can get really down because of your tennis. It’s difficult to not take your self worth and total happiness from your results.”
Liam would have rather talked to a professional than his big sister but did not know who to turn to.
The ATP insists mental health is an area it takes seriously and there are plans to expand the current system of support, which relies on tournament doctors and physios raising the alarm.
A spokesman said: “The rigours of men’s professional tennis can be extreme and we recognise that adequate support needs to be provided. In cases where a player were to express psychological concerns, we have an infrastructure that would refer them to the appropriate consultant.”
The Lawn Tennis Association, meanwhile, plans to provide mental health first aid training to all its performance coaches by the end of the year.
A spokesman said: “We are committed to fully supporting the mental well-being of all the players we work with.”
Financial pressures exacerbate issues for players below the WTA and ATP Tours and both Liam and Naomi, a former top-100 player now ranked 266, estimate they have only broken even for two or three seasons across their careers.
Those worries have increased this year with the introduction of the ITF World Tour and a two-tier ranking system.
The radical changes were made by the International Tennis Federation with the aim of streamlining the professional game and providing a smoother pathway, but most players, including the Broadys, feel it has had the opposite effect.
“It’s just made it so much harder on the players financially in terms of how long it’s going to take you to rise up the rankings,” said Naomi. “I definitely think it’s a bit of a mess at the moment.”
The ITF has already made changes and insists it is listening to the players’ complaints.
Liam and Naomi at least can save money this week, with both staying at the family home in Stockport while they compete in the ITF event at Bolton Arena.
There are far fewer professional tournaments in the UK than there used to be, although the number is slowly increasing, and events in the north are particularly scarce.
“People normally think Wimbledon’s a home tournament for us but obviously as a northerner it’s very far away,” said Naomi. “The other British players are saying they’ve had to get the train up, or drive up, and I’m like, ‘Welcome to our world’.”