The World No. 195, in Bengaluru for the Challenger 100, is determined to come good, unburdened by the weight of history, and with the support of a tennis-loving family
Benjamin Lock’s tennis life mirrors that of many Indians. For the 29-year-old from Zimbabwe, there is a fairly rich tennis history to get inspired by – Cara Black, Wayne Black, Byron Black and Kevin Ullyett have all won doubles Grand Slam titles, with Cara even occupying the No. 1 spot in women’s doubles. The predicaments align too – limited federation support and no clear pathway to the top.
But the World No. 195, in Bengaluru for the Challenger 100, is determined to come good, unburdened by the weight of history, and with the support of a tennis-loving family – both his parents played for Zimbabwe and his uncle, Roy Stilwell, played at Wimbledon in 1958.
“As a junior I had a lot of success, beating a number of top-10 players,” says Lock. “From then I knew that I had good talent. [But] when I was 18, my family couldn’t afford me turning professional. Zimbabwe has no tennis infrastructure and I had no option but to go to the United States [Florida State University].”
“There I finished top-10 in singles and was beating the best. I also played [Daniil] Medvedev (mid-2016) while still in college, at a Challenger. He was top-100 then. It was a close match and a few months later he was top-20.”
But college tennis didn’t help Lock on the pro tour. Starting 2019, rule changes meant International Tennis Federation (ITF) events, the lowest tier in the game, stopped offering ATP points. Zimbabwe had only ITF tournaments.
“There were no Challengers, so I couldn’t get ATP points. I went backwards. But I overcame that and even won a tournament in Australia. I also beat Lorenzo Musetti [World No.18 now]. But then COVID-19 hit and it was a different tour.”
One thing that kept him going was the Davis Cup. Earlier this month he notched up his 29th win in the premier competition that placed him second in the all-time win list for Zimbabwe, behind Byron (39).
Davis Cup is very special for me. I grew up watching some of the biggest stars in Harare. John McEnroe as captain, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt, Goran Ivanisevic as captains…. I was so inspired to play.”
Lock now hopes to translate the Cup success on the tour. “I genuinely feel my tennis age is 23-24, keeping in mind the college years, rule changes and pandemic. Now, on my own merit, I play Challenger qualifying, and at the weaker ones the main draw. I am committed to getting better.”