Eric Butorac: 5 Vivid Memories from Pro Tennis, French Style

Feb 26, 2024Atlas Tennis Trips, Europe, Featured, News, Uncategorized

Atlas Tennis was created based on many of our own personal experiences, including those of Eric, who turned his journey of traveling to France to play local tournaments after college into a successful pro tennis career. In this post, Eric looks back on some of his best memories from this unique time at the start of what would become the adventure of a lifetime.

When my friend Gareth first suggested that I move with him to Europe to play pro tennis, I thought he was crazy. I was a Division III tennis player.  D3 guys didn’t go on to the pros.

He told me we would move to France and meet up with a friend of his, Will, who was already there and knew the system well. He and Will were both Australian; Gareth had played college tennis in Indiana and Will had moved to France himself at age 18 and just survived. Both asserted that it was the best place in the world for making a career in pro tennis. I had no idea what was in store for me. I had never been to Europe, never set foot on a red-clay court. I was a blank slate, ready to compete.

The start of a pro tennis career

Eric (left) at a local French tennis club in 2003

Once I’d jumped into their local money tournament scene, the biggest difference I saw was that there were multiple entry points for each event, so the higher your rank relative to the rest of the field, the later in the event you could start. So, in theory, the first match you played was against someone slightly weaker than you (but who’d already won at least one match) and if you won, you played someone ranked higher.

This was a real shift from the tournaments that I had been playing in the States, where I would win a few matches before running into the real competition at the end of the event. It was also stressful, because, with no easy opponents, I was losing more matches than ever before!

There was also slightly different etiquette to playing these events than in what I was used to, and what I would later see when playing pro tennis. I was welcomed quickly into a new world of manners with these customs.

1. You must shake every person’s hand upon entering the club. Doesn’t matter if you can’t speak more than a “bonjour,”—do it, or you will immediately be behind the eight ball in terms of your standing with the club members.

2. Any line-call ambiguity or disagreement will be handled by “deux balls,” meaning you simply replay the point. Not a huge deal, but still quite a shock when you hit what you think is a winner and your opponent says, “I’m not sure, let’s just play it over!” Very different from the US!

3.  The winner of every match buys the loser a drink. There will always be a small restaurant/bar in the club and the winner pays for a beer, soda, or most often, a coffee.  Nothing quenches thirst like a hot shot of espresso. However, in all of my memories, these conversations that I had post-match were some of my favorite memories.

4. Just because a tournament starts on one surface doesn’t mean it will finish on that surface.  A French tennis club might have two clay courts and two hard courts. I played one event that was listed as a hard-court event. I won my quarterfinal comfortably and was due to play the local pro in the semis.  When I arrived that morning, I was told “Court trois.”  Court 3 was clay. To whom do you complain when your opponent is the tournament director?

5. It seems all tournaments have a party! It could be a BBQ, it could be a sit down dinner…but these tennis events always come with great food and conversation…even if you don’t understand much!

Nighttime at a French tournament

Even in a grainy 20 year old photo, you can see there is something special about an evening of tennis in Europe

Interested in traveling to really see what European tennis is all about? Reach out to the Director of Atlas Tennis, Ben Shapiro to learn more. ben@atlas.tennis