Do you know that feeling when things are just going right? That happy place is where Australian tennis player John Peers resides right now, after taking out the Australian Open men’s doubles title with Finnish partner Henri Kontinen just a few days ago; now he will don the green and gold for the second time, as one of the best doubles players in the world, in the Davis Cup World Group first round tie against the Czech Republic at Kooyong in Melbourne on Friday.
The Melbourne-born 28-year-old has accumulated ATP Tour doubles titles regularly in the past two years, and he and Kontinen, together since early 2016, now rank No. 6 in the world standings. Their 2016 wins included two on clay courts at Munich and Hamburg and three on the hardcourts of Brisbane, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
“We had some ups and downs throughout the year but we kept working hard, and when you keep working and trusting in what you want to do as a partnership … it was just a matter of time before things clicked”, Peers told ESPN on-court at Kooyong.
Clicked they certainly did as they held aloft the Australian Open trophy on Rod Laver Arena last Sunday.
“For me to be able to win my home title is something that I’m still pinching myself about,” he said with an obvious glow. “I’ve actually still got a shiver running down the back of my neck when I say it. It was something that was definitely humbling and something that I haven’t come to terms with the reality yet, to be honest.”
The past two years have been good for Peers, but he has not enjoyed an express lane to regular success since electing for a career in tennis. As teenagers, the choice for many late school-agers could rest between a career in economics or plumbing, to pursue further education or not? For Peers, 10 years ago, it was a choice between a cricket bat or tennis racquet, and home or away.
“I had to decide, before I went to college, whether I was going to play tennis or cricket. So I made the decision when I was about 17 or 18 and I played Aussie juniors [the Australian Open junior tournament] in the morning then went to play cricket in the afternoon”, the right-hander recalled of a time a decade ago.
“I just loved the taste of being in and around a Grand Slam and saying that I was playing in one, so for me that was the little light that clicked and said that I wanted to go and play tennis.
With tennis the winner, Peers set off for the U.S. for stints at Middle Tennessee State University and Baylor University.
“I knew I needed to get a bit more experience under my belt, let my body grow and develop naturally,” he said. It gave me the time to be able to so that and to give me the time to understand my game and how to handle the men’s game.
“It was a perfect transition to get a lot more matches in a shorter space of time and get that experience and match toughness.
“It is tough as a junior to then turn pro and go on the men’s tour. If you don’t have a great [first] year playing 35 tournaments and go out in the first round of all of them, you’ve only played as many matches. I was able to end up playing 40 or 50 matches in the three-month stretch … to be able to do that it gave me a lot more time on court, which was great. It’s been an invaluable experience to do that.”
Peers’ sister, Sally, competes on the women’s tour and can boast a Wimbledon girls’ doubles championship win in 2009, and their mother, Elizabeth, is a regular name on the honour rolls at Kooyong, but his rise has been a lot quieter than that of some of his compatriots.
Perhaps it was his more muted early approach that is providing such fruitful results today. While the much publicised, analysed and criticised dramas around Davis Cup teammate Nick Kyrgios dominate recent headlines, Peers is happy to keep being a quieter achiever.
“I’ve been on the road since I left Australia when I was 18 so I’m enjoying it while I can”, he said.
Peers will take on the doubles tie with Sam Groth, having made his Davis Cup debut for Australia at Kooyong, alongside Lleyton Hewitt in the corresponding match against the U.S. in 2016. Both are ready for action but Peers admits that he needed an extra couple of days to “come down” but also recover from his biggest success to date.
“I said to ‘Grothy’ that I’ve got more energy today so I’m looking forward to the next couple of days to freshen up more and be ready to go,” he said.
Perspective is something Peers seems to have in hand. When asked whether the absence of a big gun such as Bernard Tomic — who disappointed captain Hewitt and Kyrgios with his decision not to play — means more pressure on him, he seems comfortable either way; he’s intent on playing his part in a part of the sport that really is a team game.
“There’s no extra pressure that we wouldn’t put on ourselves anyway so it comes down to what we execute to begin with on any given day,” he said.