Tennis Spotlight: Marcus Daniell and His Mission to Better the World

In this week’s tennis spotlight, I interviewed ATP doubles veteran Marcus Daniell. Marcus has been playing on tour since he was 17. He is currently 31 years old and is ranked 45 in the world in doubles. If you would like to follow along his results, click here. We talked about his career, tennis at a young age, relationships on tour, differences between the Davis Cup and the Olympics, off-court hobbies, 2021 goals, his charity “High Impact Athletes” that he just launched, and his future. Please check out what his charity is all about here. It is special!

  1. You picked up a tennis racquet when you were young. When did you first fall in love with the sport?

When I was 2 years old I would drag a tennis racquet around and hit things with it. I had quite a pivotal moment in my life when I was 14 and got told by the New Zealand Soccer Federation that I had to give up tennis if I wanted to stay on the national soccer team. I decided to choose tennis. At that moment I knew I was going to pursue tennis full-heartedly.

  1. Do you support playing multiple sports to build athletic skill or do you argue for playing only 1 sport and focusing on that?

I believe that for kids you should play as many sports as you possibly can. It is great for overall athleticism and it is fun. I think having a broad base of sports improves your athleticism and gives you a wider view of the world.

  1. Who led the decision to go to a boarding school to train full time? Was it you, your parents, or both? Did you have that self desire to get better at that stage of your life?

It was not so much a push from my parents. The decision was mine in terms of which sport to play. Once I made that decision I knew I was not training as much as other guys. I knew I had to up my training if I wanted to go pro. My parents were very supportive and agreed to send me to an academy. So I went to a boarding school in Auckland and trained at an academy.  

  1. Can you talk about your experience in Europe during your senior year?

My final year of high school I got a pile of textbooks and took them with me to Slovakia with a Slovakian coach who lived in New Zealand. We trained in the mountains of Slovakia but it was not what I imagined. I took a step back in the town that I trained in. I played a few junior events on clay and it did not go well. At the end of the 4 months I played a few futures and then I played more futures when I moved to the academy in Bratislava. So I moved to Bratislava to an academy where I ended up staying for 2.5 years. I went to Europe at age 17.

  1. What was going through your head when you received your first ATP point?

I qualified in Nottingham in the UK on outdoor hard. It was a $10k Futures. I played against a guy who went to the same academy I did in the first round. I won the first set, and choked serving for the match 5-4 in the second. I did not respond too badly and broke him back to go up 6-5 and served it out 7-5. I was so excited and could not stop smiling. I called my parents and it was 4AM in New Zealand where they lived. I had so much confidence I thought I could not lose because I officially became a pro. The second round I played Martin Fisher and he schooled me. My ego got popped right away. I have been hanging out with Martin during my preseason training recently, and we have been joking about it. 

  1. Did your thoughts differ from when you won your first Futures, Challenger, Atp 250?

I had the same feeling when I won my first match at the grand slam level. I remember winning the first round at Wimbledon and a lot of family and friends were there. We played well and celebrated with them afterwards. It was really special. It did not have the same feeling at the challenger level, because I knew they were just another step. Whereas the win at Wimbledon, by virtue of the place and aura and being able to say to your grandkids, “I won a match at Wimbledon”, carried a lot of significance for me.

  1. When did you decide to stop playing singles, and why?

I started playing the best singles of my career, just defended a singles title, ranked 500 at the time, and I started believing that I could play. I had to fly directly to Canada right after a futures tournament and lost the singles first round. I won the doubles tournament and made the main draw of doubles in the next tournaments, but could not make any singles qualifying because we went deep in doubles each week. I had to decide to focus on doubles. It gets harder and harder to say you want to play singles when you are getting into bigger doubles tournaments. From the start of 2015 I went full time into doubles.

  1. How special is it to see guys get from futures to ATP level with you?

When you are growing up, you are surrounded by players who compete at the highest level. If you can be around that, it is an incredible tool. You can see yourself as a tennis player who is working hard, but you can see good players and it motivates you to become better. Seeing some of the guys who I played and practiced against playing the highest level is like a nice surprise. I had a lot of battles with Dan Evans at the futures level and now he is beating some of the best players in the world, solidifying his place in the top 50. It is amazing to think I had a similar level to him. It makes you think about the “what ifs”. What would you have had to have done differently to get to where they are at now? 

  1. What kind of relationships have you built on tour? How important is it to building relationships on tour?

Everyone is a bit more relaxed and there is more camaraderie on the doubles tour. It is a little more selfless because you have to work as a team. If you want to pick a partner you cannot be an asshole. If you are an asshole, no one will want to play with you. I think the only person you can have a no hold back relationship with is your doubles partner. Tennis is a gladiatorial sport, and you are essentially taking prize money away from your opponents. One of us has to win and one of us has to lose. That can stop good friendships from being really deep friendships. 

  1. Can you talk about the importance of sticking with a doubles partner?

I like to think about a partnership for a long term effort. I like to partner with someone who has a similar ranking to me. It is tough to find. A couple of times, partners have jumped ship on me. The partner I have now will be a long term thing. It is really a team effort. You will perform better. You will also be more marketable and from an advertising standpoint you will gain more popularity.

  1. You have played the Davis Cup for many years. Does the excitement grow each year you play? How special is it to represent your country?

For me, it fills me with the most pride over anything in my career. I am extremely proud of New Zealand and every time I walk out on court representing the country it is an extremely different feeling. I was trying really hard not to shed a tear during the National Anthem during my first Davis Cup. 

  1. How different is the Olympics compared to the Davis cup?

The most memorable part of my career was walking into the arena at Rio for the Olympics. The Davis Cup is different from the Olympics. At the Davis Cup there is a rowdy crowd and at the Olympics the crowds were much smaller. Being in the village at the Olympics surrounded by world class athletes in their sports was amazing. Everyone was so pumped and were very nice. We exchanged pins and took photos. Davis Cup had more of an atmosphere, but walking out into the opening ceremony at the Olympics was electric. 

  1. What kind of setbacks did you have, and how long did it take you to overcome them?

The biggest setback I have had in my career has been injury. I do not think I have played a full season without having time off with an injury. It has been a source of frustration and sadness. I lost ranking points and time and it has been tough to deal with. It has been a constant quest for trying to find the right way to take care of my body. I have tried so many recovery methods over the years to search for what is safe for me while still being able to compete. I am still not sure I have found the answer. There may be no answer for my genetics, and everyone is built differently. I have to play with what I have. At this point in my career I am trying to be very smart with how I train. I hopefully will only have to deal with this pain while I am playing tennis, and I do not want it to affect my life after I retire.

  1. How important is it to have hobbies to take your mind off tennis?

It depends on your personality, but for me it is absolutely essential. I could not be on tour if I could not have the things that took my mind away from it. I need to have an off switch. I think I am lucky because I have too many outside interests and have had to stop some of them to focus on tennis more.

  1. What do you like to do when you want to take your mind off tennis?

I loved surfing and snowboarding when I was young. I stopped snowboarding because it was too dangerous but I have kept surfing to keep me sane. Every offseason I go on a little surf trip. I have missed a lot of weeks due to injuries from surfing. I have made a deal with my current doubles partner that I would only surf small boring waves until I retire. I have a guitar everywhere I go. Right now I have this little electric guitar that you can plug into a portable speaker. My guitar is an amazing escape. Outside of that, I love to read. I am currently also pursuing my masters degree in philosophy. I just launched a nonprofit also. Basically designed to funnel donations from athletes, sports federations, and companies to charities in the world that are in need. There is a huge amount of research that goes into finding the right resources. 

  1. Covid has ruined the year for many people, do you have any positive takeaways from 2020?

Absolutely. I got married this year for the first time in my life. I got to spend a long stretch of time with my now wife. I really put a lot of time into thinking about what I want to do after tennis which is this nonprofit, which will make a positive impact on the world. It will be something that I will be passionate about for the rest of my life. I think that is a real gift, because a lot of athletes retire and struggle to find a new spark.

  1. You won the Sardinia ATP 250, and beat the #1 & #2 ranked players and then the #9 & #27 players also. Did this excite you for what’s to come in 2021?

We put in an incredible training week before this tournament and knew it was going to pay dividends. We started clicking that week. I do not think we lost a set that tournament, which was amazing. It was our first tour trophy as a team, with Phil Oswald. We had both wives and kids there. From late September on we felt like we had really good results. We are trying to make a big jump together at the start of 2021.

  1. What is your tennis goal and your personal goal for 2021?

To be top 25 in doubles, be able to play all of the masters, and have a really good chance of making the masters. Also to generate as many donations as possible for the nonprofit. 

  1. When you retire, how do you want people to describe the mark you left on the sport?

I want to be known as the guy who pushed the ATP into a more conscious place in terms of the effect the tour has on the environment. It costs money to address these issues and no organization is interested in losing more money. I hope by the end of my career I can get the movement better on that.

  1. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

In 10 years I see myself in New Zealand with a young family and at least one dog. I see myself working on something that makes the world better and hopefully having an impact on something on improving the structure of tennis in New Zealand so that we can have more world class tennis players. 

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