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Eardley Holds Professional Ambition

JOSH Eardley has set his sights on becoming a professional after moving to the United States on a tennis scholarship. The 19-year-old, left Basford for Wingate University in North Carolina at the weekend, hoping to follow the same route into the sport as John McEnroe and James Blake. The former St John Fisher Catholic College student, ranked in the UK top 600, will be based in the U.S. for four years, with expert coaching every day.

He said: "This is a great opportunity for me and although they have a similar system in England, which I looked into, it is a much higher standard in the U.S.

"This is a big decision I have had to make, but one that I would regret if I didn't take it. Sport is huge over there. They take it seriously. Some university matches are even televised."

Eardley had spoken to the Lawn Tennis Association for advice on how to progress in the game before deciding his best chance to fulfil his potential lay across the Atlantic. He made the 3,700-mile journey on Sunday and is now starting to settle in the south eastern state, completing a degree alongside his tennis programme.

His mum, Sheila, said: "Josh was made an offer by Wingate and it looks like a terrific university to go and play sport. It is very professional; a fantastic set-up.

"He has wanted to be a professional since he was a boy and that is still his dream. It does happen, not for everyone perhaps, but at the moment we are very excited.

"He will have to work hard and we know it will be very competitive, but at the same time the people over there are very supportive."

Eardley first picked up a racquet on a family holiday to Lanzarote when he was six, joining Basford Tennis Club as a keen and energetic seven-year-old. He was selected for the Staffordshire training squad when he was 10 and, five years later, he and other county prospects made a trip to Barcelona to work with Sergi Bruguera. That brief stint with the two-time French Open champion opened a door for Eardley to join the English Academy in Sutton, Surrey, then run by Jeremy Bates. Coaches in Barcelona had contacted Sutton to organise a trial, and Eardley spent the rest of his school life at the centre while developing as a player.

The former Basford first-team player received grants to help fund his stay, including from the LTA, Newcastle Sports Council and the Sir Stanley Matthews Foundation.

Bates helped with coaching, alongside Finland's Davis Cup captain Kim Tiilikainen, and Eardley believed he emerged as a stronger player, physically, technically and mentally. Last spring he reached the quarter-final of the Sutton Tennis Academy Easter Tournament before, in November, he lost out in the qualifying round of the AEGON British Tour. His performance in eight ranking events in 2011 saw him rise to 597th in the UK standings and seventh in Staffordshire.

Sheila said: "When he first saw tennis courts when we were in Lanzarote we told him that we was too little to play. He couldn't even reach the nets.

"But ever since then there has been no stopping him. He has a real hunger to succeed."

Sentinel, 13 January 2012
Courtesy of The Sentinel News & Media

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