WINNETKA, Ill. — Center court at the A.C. Nielsen Tennis Center in this leafy suburban enclave along Lake Michigan sits nearly 4,000 miles away from Wimbledon’s pristine grass-court setting. Tim Smyczek had planned on competing at the Grand Slam event, but instead he was here on Monday, locked in a three-set match in front of a couple hundred spectators.
Smyczek, ranked 121st in the world, found himself at this ATP Challenger Tour event nearly a month after he accidentally failed to register for the Wimbledon qualifying tournament. It had nothing to do with his on-court performance: He just hadn’t read the entirety of a weekly email of tournament entry deadlines sent out by his agent.
“I’m pretty sure that’s the first time that’s happened to me,” Smyczek, 30, said. “It’s a tough lesson to learn.”
The unforced error — and subsequent unsuccessful efforts to gain a wild card into Wimbledon or at the ATP tournament in Eastbourne, England, the week before — brought Smyczek’s grass-court season to an abrupt end. It provided him with an unexpected week off to prepare for the Challenger event, which he entered as the No. 1 seed.
Smyczek first learned of the Wimbledon mishap when he was at the airport, en route to the Netherlands for the first of two scheduled Wimbledon warm-up events. His coach, Dustin Taylor, had been on a conference call when he noticed the Wimbledon entry list pop up in an email on his phone.
Taylor rarely checks such lists, he said, but with three of his players scheduled to compete, he decided to scan this one. After successfully locating the first two players — the Americans Mitchell Krueger and Denis Kudla — Taylor’s eyes scanned down to names beginning with ‘S.’
Taylor estimated he looked over the list 10 times. Smyczek’s name wasn’t there.
“As a coach, you never want to break that news to a player,” Taylor said. “You never want to let them that they’re going to miss any Slam, let alone Wimbledon.”
When Taylor finally managed to bring himself to tell his player, Smyczek responded in disbelief: “Tell me it’s not so.”
Smyczek contemplated scrapping the European trip altogether amid the disappointment of missing the opportunity to play the Wimbledon qualifier, which he had entered six times before. Smyczek will also miss the United States Open qualifying tournament later this summer because he and his wife are expecting a child — which made his Wimbledon mistake even more difficult to take.
Smyczek went ahead and played the event in the Netherlands and another in Britain before returning to the United States to prepare for coming tournaments, hoping to improve his ranking and possibly gain entry into the U.S. Open’s main draw.
“When all is said and done, I’ve got to keep trying to make hay in the rankings,” Smyczek said. “This is what I do for a living, and scheduling is all a part of that.”
His next step in moving on from the Wimbledon disappointment was this week’s Challenger tournament north of Chicago, the Nielson Pro Tennis Championship, a rung below the main ATP Tour. It was as much an opportunity to distract himself as it was to earn rankings points. (It was not a place to earn much prize money, though. A player in the first round in Winnetka would get $780, while playing in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying nets nearly $6,500.)
“I don’t watch a ton of tennis to begin with, but I really didn’t want to turn on the TV to watch any Wimbledon this year,” he said.
In his first-round match against Tommy Paul on Monday night, Smyczek quickly won the first set, 6-1. But he lost the second set in a tiebreaker despite holding several match points, and then fell behind in the third set, 5-1. Smyczek rallied to 5-4 as Paul dealt with cramping, but Smyczek couldn’t complete the comeback, losing, 1-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4.
After meeting with Taylor for a few minutes, Smyczek made the drive to his parents’ home in Milwaukee. The Winnetka loss was tough to swallow, he said. But he was back on the practice court Tuesday morning to prepare for next week’s grass-court tournament in Newport, R.I.
“It’s never easy, but I’ve been doing this for a very long time,” Smyczek said. “It’s happened to me plenty of times before where I’ve been the favorite and gone down early. It’s tough not to replay those match points in your head.”
He added: “I have to figure what happened, why it happened and what I’m going to do the next time I’m in that situation.”