Wimbledon? U.S. Open? French Open? TCU All-American has sights set on grand stages

Courtesy of TCU Athletics

Alex Rybakov has competed at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open. As a junior.

Now, he is trying to get back to those prestigious stages as a professional. The former TCU standout is in the early stages of his pro career, trying to climb his way up the ladder of a sport that has an exclusive group that make a living by playing it.

Just think that three, maybe four, NFL rosters is the grand total of male tennis professionals making a living playing tennis.

“If you’re in the Top 200 in the world, let’s say 180th, you’re a helluva tennis player,” said Rybakov, the 22-year-old lefty known for his big serve and big forehand.

“But you’re not making too much money. You’ve got to be really up there to make a good amount.

“The road to the top is not as extremely glamorous as everyone thinks. You’ve got to work your way up. Even if you’ve had a great college career, you don’t have a ranking, so you’re playing smaller tournaments in front of not many fans for not too much money. Going through those roads is definitely one of the toughest things.”

But that’s something Rybakov is prepared for.

Rybakov was in the field for the 2019 Nielsen Men’s Pro Tennis Championship in Winnetka, Illinois this week, losing a first-round match to Australian Max Purcell on Tuesday morning.

Last week, Rybakov played in a tournament in Orlando, Florida with a chance to earn a spot in a U.S. Open qualifier, but lost in the finals.

Still, those who know Rybakov best are confident in his abilities and drive to reach the highest level, starting with TCU assistant coach Devin Bowen.

“What sets Alex apart from most players is his discipline,” said Bowen, who spent 12 years as a professional in the ATP following a standout college career at TCU.

“Alex is a great athlete but there are so many amazing tennis players on tour, it is his work ethic and attitude that will give him a huge edge in his career.”

Just look at what Rybakov accomplished in his stellar career at TCU.

Last season, Rybakov earned, among others, ITA Singles All-American honors; Big 12 co-player of the year honors; All-Big 12 singles first-team; All-Big 12 doubles second team; and ITA Texas Region senior player of the year.

But the challenging roads ahead are a welcomed sight for Rybakov and his dream of reaching the highest level. He’s seen it pay off for other TCU players such as Cameron Norrie, who won a first-round singles match at Wimbledon this year.

As Bowen put it, “Cameron Norrie’s success is important because it shows Alex exactly what it takes to be top 50 in the world. They have practiced together so many times and he has watched Cameron improve and become the player he is today.

“Alex has followed Cameron’s career closely from the beginning and learned a lot from him. Now it is time for him to start his own career and use what he has learned from his former teammate to make the transition.”

It’s underway with a jampacked summer schedule, something that Rybakov is accustomed to. He played in a number of summer events during his TCU career, but his earnings were capped to supplement only travel expenses.

Now, Rybakov is able to earn full money. But it’s a full-time job, too, which means Rybakov is spending more time training, monitoring his diet, studying opponents and watching film.

“With this being my job so to speak, every little thing counts,” said Rybakov, who is five classes shy of earning his degree from TCU.

“Everything I’m doing now is to maximize myself to become a better player. I have more time to focus on the stuff that I need to do.”

Rybakov, who came to TCU as a top-rated recruit out of South Florida in 2015, plans to make Fort Worth his home base. Bowen still serves as his primary coach, and DFW is an easy city to travel out of.

Rybakov is confident everything will work out eventually. He knows he’s got the talent and game to make it at the highest level. Playing the best college competition the past four years at TCU only helped solidify his belief.

He was teammates with current pros such as Norrie at TCU, and grew up going against others such as Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul.

“A lot of my friends turned pro coming out of high school, but going to TCU ended up being the best decision I’ve made,” Rybakov said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience. It’s been more than I could’ve asked for. I got so much better with my four years there.

“Now I feel like I’m playing my best tennis right now. I’m ready to go.”

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