Following an early exit from the tournament, the 27-year-old American tennis star made an unexpected pivot to ESPN—and has been a smashing success.
When Coco Gauff first saw fellow American tennis star Chris Eubanks in a suit, glasses and pocket square behind the ESPN desk after her U.S. Open quarterfinal victory, she couldn’t hide her surprise. “What are you doing here?” the 19-year-old American phenom asked him as she climbed into the chair. The two could hardly contain their laughter on air, but Gauff proceeded to credit practice sessions with Eubanks for her ability to control the pace of hard-hitting opponent Jelena Ostapenko, leading to the kind of insightful conversation that is rare in a post-match interview.
The 27-year-old Eubanks is one of the breakout stars of the 2023 tennis season, catching ESPN’s attention not only with his surprise run to the Wimbledon quarterfinals in July but also his commentary on the Tennis Channel, where he has received unanimous praise. After a second round exit in the men’s singles draw—during which he made a hasty dash to the bathroom, mid-point—and a first round loss in doubles, where he teamed with fellow American Ben Shelton, the deal with ESPN came together quickly. The very next day, Eubanks was announcing men’s singles matches, and has since has participated in panels, interviews and post-match commentary.
“We didn’t even really discuss what the pay would be in the beginning, it was just the fact that ESPN was going to give me the opportunity to be on their platform. And I was just, like, whatever it is I’ll take it,” Eubanks tells Forbes. “The responses have been more than I could have even imagined, so many people have reached out and said they enjoy hearing my commentary, that they liked seeing me on TV.”
This is not a future Eubanks could have predicted for himself in late 2021, when his rank hovered just under 200 in the world and he reached out to his agent about potential alternate career paths if he couldn’t improve his ranking over the next year. “Media didn’t even cross my mind,” he says. Eubanks changed his opinion after a week-long stint on the Tennis Channel the following spring, enjoying it so much he did another stretch in late 2022—right around the time he started playing the best tennis of his life.
Eubanks says his work as a TV analyst has helped his play tremendously. Whereas he might typically watch tennis via extended highlights on YouTube, his new role on ESPN has forced him to watch two or three full matches per day, analyzing the strategies and patterns of the world’s best players and crystallizing them in his mind as he explained them to audiences.
It’s hard to argue with the results. The 6’7” Eubanks, who played for Georgia Tech in college, began 2023 ranked No. 123 in the world, and has since risen to No. 30 while logging his first career ATP title and a quarterfinal appearance in a Grand Slam. He has also doubled his career tournament winnings in 2023, earning just over $1.2 million on the court, removing the strain he once felt when every match carried the pressure of financial stability. “I played my best tennis in these last three, four months because I just felt like I was playing free,” he says.
As the 2023 U.S Open draws to a close this weekend, Eubanks has no contract in place with ESPN or any other outlets, and hasn’t made any commitments to appear on TV at future tournaments as he continues to focus on his playing career. But this serendipitous week in Flushing Meadows has proven that Eubanks can and will be a part of tennis broadcasts as soon as his playing days end.
“It’s pretty much a shoo-in,” he says, “as long as the networks will still have me.”
In the meantime, his assignment at the Open will be discussing the semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and Shelton, who he can relate to both as doubles partner and as the last American to make a deep run at a Grand Slam. During Wimbledon this summer, Eubanks says it was helpful for him to put his phone on Do Not Disturb to guard against the onslaught of potentially distracting text messages. And when he tried to congratulate Shelton for his quarterfinal win over 25-year-old American Frances Tiafoe, Eubanks saw in the text thread that notifications had similarly been silenced.
“When I saw that, I was, like, that’s perfect, that’s great, [Ben Shelton’s] going to be alright,” Eubanks says. “After you win a couple matches it’s weird, but you look at it as, on to the next one, on to the next one. Rest assured he’s going to go out there and he’s going to have fun.”
It’s a strategy that Chris Eubanks knows is a winner.
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