James McCabe was not even three years old, but his father was convinced he could be a tennis player some day. There was something about the sight of the toddler swinging a tennis racquet that convinced Patrick that he was meant to be a professional tennis player.
“He just seemed to have an aptitude for tennis. He hit some forehands, and then backhands. He hit them really well, that too from the service line. It was crazy, actually. After that, I took him to the tennis court everyday for the next three-four years. We’d just hit balls. That’s how everything started,” recollects McCabe Sr, who is also James’ coach.
Patrick, who has never played the sport professionally himself, admits that he picked up the intricacies of the sport by watching clips on YouTube, which he would then pass on to his son.
“I didn’t know what I was doing (in the initial days). Not knowing a lot about teaching tennis, I strayed onto YouTube, where I sought out videos of tennis training for kids,” says McCabe Sr.
On Saturday, the 19-year-old McCabe, ranked 346th in the world, had his much senior compatriot James Duckworth, ranked 128th, fretting for a few brief moments in the semi-final of the Bengaluru Open Challenger. With the score at 3-3 in the second set, McCabe had a break point on Duckworth’s serve. But his inexperience came through and he let Duckworth claw out of the difficult situation, before the 31-year-old sealed a 6-3, 6-3 win to set up a final against Max Purcell.
McCabe was in the news last year for being Novak Djokovic’s training partner during the World No.1’s short stay in Australia. The Serb practised with McCabe in the days between him being sent to a detention hotel and being deported out of Australia for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
While Djokovic never got to play the 2022 Australian Open, McCabe did get a wildcard in the qualifying tournament in 2022 and again this year.
For the McCabes, those training sessions with Djokovic and the wildcards are validation that their decision to take the plunge into tennis – despite McCabe also being a national champion in swimming when in school – was the right one.
The father also proudly points out that James was in a choir and can play various musical instruments, from the flute to the piano to the guitar.
But his focus now is on breaking into the Top 100 in the ATP rankings, and going from strength to strength from there. And then maybe someday, parents of three-year-olds will be watching his YouTube videos for inspiration.