David Packman sat down with up and coming Aussie teenager Brad Mousley at Melbourne Park during the Australian Open and talked to him about what it means to stand on the precipice of a professional tennis career.
The first thing that strikes me about Brad Mousley is his quiet confidence. The eighteen year-old from Wynn Vale in South Australia is playing in his final Junior Australian Open before having a serious tilt at the big time—initially through the grind of men’s events at Futures and Challenger level, where he hopes to build up enough points to join the ATP Tour proper.
I am chatting with him in the media centre at Melbourne Park, the home of the Australian Open. Famous names in the sport continually float by, but that doesn’t faze the young man in the slightest.
Brad has tasted victory here already, winning the Junior Boys’ Doubles title last year. He has just come off a win in the singles event as well, putting him in a semifinal match against the world’s best junior, Alexander Zverev.
“I’m not too worried that he’s No.1 in the world,” Brad says calmly about the sixteen year-old German. “I think I’ll be okay to get through if I stick to my game.”
Brad started playing tennis at the tender age of six under the watchful eye of his father Craig, himself a tennis coach.
Like many talented youngsters, Brad played a number of sports early on, standing out quickly among his peers in Australian Rules football (AFL) as well as tennis. At the age of twelve, he began to focus solely on tennis, putting AFL on the backburner due to the risk of an injury interrupting his tennis aspirations.
He was eventually taken under the wing of Tennis Australia and, with his father still involved, he has now progressed to the upper echelons of the junior world rankings.
AFL was never far from his mind, though. When young, rather than tennis idols, his bedroom walls were adorned with Port Adelaide Power superstars.
“I didn’t have many tennis idols when I was younger to be honest,” Brad said. “I was a huge Port Adelaide fan and I still am.”
That was made most evident by the fact he withdrew from the lead-up tournament to the Australian Nationals in 2004 just to watch Port Adelaide contest the Grand Final.
“They got pumped that day,” Brad said. “So it wasn’t great and probably not worth it, but still…”
Brad is under no illusions about the difficult path that lies ahead, but he holds very high ambitions nonetheless.
“I feel like I have a big game where if I just add some more consistency it could take me a long way.”
He has made it perfectly clear he wants to be the best in the world.
In a dog-eat-dog sport like tennis, where a very large proportion of even those who rise sharply in the junior ranks fall by the wayside, that’s a pretty bold statement.
“Well, you have to believe in yourself,” Brad simply states. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
Of course, like all sports, your day in the sun is fleeting, and even the most successful players one day find themselves in retirement at what most (maybe not Brad right at this very moment) still consider a relatively young age.
As such, Brad continues his education to give him something to fall back on.
“I’m still at school, but I’m doing my final year over two years, just because all the traveling makes it that much more difficult.”
Brad also understands what’s he’s giving up in terms of his social life—an important consideration for a teenage boy.
“Yeah, I miss out on a lot of stuff because I’m never home,” he said. “It doesn’t worry me that much. Some of my mates didn’t fully get it at first and got angry when I had to cancel all the time. They’re getting better though and my close mates understand.”
Social media helps keep him connected also.
“All that stuff is great. But sometimes it’s hard to get online and, of course, there are time differences.”
Brad also feels the pressure to mature more quickly than the average teenager.
“For sure. I often travel by myself. I cook, clean, get myself to training.”
I make the point that even sitting down to talk to me in this kind of environment would be completely foreign to the average eighteen year-old.
“It’s tough because you still want to muck around sometimes,” Brad said. “But then I’ve got to realize it will affect me and what I’m trying to do.”
I get the feeling it doesn’t take much more than watching Federer or Nadal strut their stuff on the big stage to keep Brad on track.
“Yeah, that’s the objective. To be out there, doing that.”
I imagine many teenagers would get impatient as they slowly make their way through the juniors with the hope of giving themselves an opportunity on the ATP Tour.
Almost thirty years ago, guys like Boris Becker were bursting onto the scene and winning Wimbledon at seventeen. But that was 1985 and today there’s not a single teenager inside the top 100 in the world.
Analysts talk about slower courts making the game much more physical and giving the advantage to older, more conditioned players. I asked Brad his opinion on why it seems to take that much longer for the younger players to make an impact at the top level.
While he admitted to finding it frustrating sometimes, he sees it so much more simply.
“That’s just the way it is.”
I close by asking Brad what the most alluring thing is about the career path he’s been lucky enough to embark upon.
Is it the intangibles? To do what you love. To follow your dream. Your passion.
Or is it more material? Fame. Money. Girls.
“I think it’s just the lifestyle. I get to travel, see the world.”
Despite taking a set from Zverev—who went on to win the Championship—Brad lost his semifinal. However, he successfully defended his doubles title, this time with partner Lucas Miedler, winning the final in straight sets.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons