Former UCLA tennis player, Andrew Eklov, went through a series of unfortunate events that led to him mixing cocktails at Hard Rock cafe. I catch up on his “Life After” with him in Amsterdam.
After having spent a long-ass day greeting customers, Andrew sits on his couch and opens a can of Grolsch, his favorite Euro Lager beer that he fell for 2 and a half years ago when he moved to Amsterdam. He decided to move from rainless California for one reason, to live with his girlfriend, now wife, Linda who also played tennis for an American university. He recently turned 30 years old and, as he says, “passed his prime to say the least”. Andrew played tennis for 22 years, but he would not define himself as just a tennis player, he confesses: “I was quite competitive until a certain level and then kind of plateaued in a way …and then moved on with my life.”
Andrew was born in Los Angeles, a hotbed of tennis legends. Maybe that was what inspired Andrew’s parents when they decided to put both of their kids on tennis. “They just threw a racket in our hand and I guess me and my sister were quite natural with it. I would say that the first couple of years we were kind of low key from age of 4 to 9 and then I just started to play tournaments and was kicking all the kids’ asses. I was beating them up, I was a big kid. I had power.”Eventually his family had started to see tennis as an entry to universities. Andrews’s parents realized that to get into a top school solely via academics is incredibly difficult. “My sister got into the University of Illinois and played all four years, however she never had the mindset to become a pro. I sort of did, but also didn’t. I thought about it but tennis was just a way to get into school and then from there, coaches are trying to motivate you and you might progress and hopefully after school you can make it. Because when you are 18 it’s actually tough to turn straight pro. I knew a few players who were top as juniors, turned pro at 18 and then burned down by the time there were 22. Injuries and what not, they never made it back to school and now they have no college degree and never did anything with tennis.“ Andrew continues with his story.
The highest point for Andrew was when he was around 16-17, while still in high school, he dominated all of the tournaments. When he could not find a competitor, he decided to move to LA and play tennis full time while homeschooling. “It was a high point, you feel special, when you are winning all the awards and all that stuff, it feels good.’’ Even though he was not mentally ready for the transition, Andrew was always around non-athletes as well. When describing the difference between athletes and non-athletes Andrew explains: “Well, athletes live in sort of a closed off world in a way, athletes would rather bond with other athletes, because they feel like they have similarities, they feel special, but I always had an interest in people with other interests. You can even see it now; I always go out and talk to random people. It’s just an addiction of mine.” Andrew has felt like this since high school times: “I was a state champion three years in a row, best player by far and nobody knew who I was in high school, I was the best athlete of the school but I ended up just hanging out with a couple of metalheads. Totally out of the line, which was kind of funny because when the football team won a game, everyone cared and then when I won state champion, nobody knew who I was.”
When asked if he had a social life back then, he definitely says: “None. I would hang out with a few friends, but in the weekend I would fly to LA or NorCal to play tournaments. And during the week after school I would go and play tennis and stay home. My only social life was in academy which was funny because it was other tennis players and they were all homeschooled as well. We were all in our own little bubble.”
“It was a high point, you feel special, when you are winning all the awards and all that stuff, it feels good.’’
Andrew was homeschooled before college so he could play tennis 5 hours a day. He played in Academy and then got into a university with a top team- The University of Illinois for his freshman year. But even though Andrew finished college, there were times when he did not want to finish: “My problem was academics, kind of my downfall in a way. When I got to college, my mind was set on tennis only unfortunately, I had to balance the academics, which I did not do in the first semester and it ended up making me ineligible for my first year. That kind of threw off everything, so I was not able to compete and it just went down.” Later he transferred to UCLA, because the situation got more complicated. “My dad was unhappy with the situation and wanted me to transfer to UCLA to be closer to home. Eventually I regained the eligibility but my dad still wanted me to come home. So I transferred but did not make the lineup at UCLA my second season, so that was already my second year without competing and by the third year the team did not change at all. I lost all motivation really.”
Andrew studied sociology which he calls “the athlete major”, because it’s pretty much the easiest and least amount of effort “I wanted to do film; you know my passion outside of tennis would have been to go to film school, creative writing or stuff like that. I took a few classes but to make it my major I had to sign by the junior year, but at that point I was still on the tennis team. All the classes were during the afternoon practices. And by the time I decided not to be in the team, it was already too late to declare my major so I was just stuck with sociology.” When he left UCLA tennis he still played sometimes or coached a few rich kids from Bel Air just to make a little side money, but he would not practice full time: “After I graduated I stayed with my roommate. His coach started to teach again and we played a couple of Futures. That was good but my dad was about to pay for my sister because she actually finished school and competed all four years. I dropped of the team and expected him to do what? To pay for me to fly around the world playing futures? That wasn’t gonna happen so there is that.” And how is his relationship with his parents now? “The relationship with my parents is way better than when tennis was involved. My dad was my manager, is the best way to put it. He signed me up for the tournaments, drove me to all of the tournaments, this and that but we butt heads. We did not agree on a lot of things. I would get frustrated on the court and oh god those conversations.’’ However when talking about the relationship now, Andrews says he and his dad are completely fine.
Even though Andrew was considering teaching tennis for a while, his experience with it was rather disappointing. “I hated teaching at the country club. I wanted to pass my knowledge along, I was raised in a certain way, but with these kids you have nowadays, they play 10 different sports. They are not experts at any of them; they are mediocre at all of them. It’s no longer picking one sport and master it. It’s pick 7 sports so you have more experience all around. So I was trying to be serious with them but if your are too serious they lose interest, they get scared and they go: ‘’well I don’t like tennis, this was supposed to be fun.” Andrew struggled to find the satisfaction he was seeking. “Now I was stuck at a job teaching a sport that I was already hating in the first place. I was teaching kids that hated the sport, then I was just fuck.”
What he hated the most about tennis? “It wasn’t the tennis that I hated, it was not the sport itself, it was more that I felt like I missed out on a lot of things because of it. But I did a lot of things because of it, so it’s kind of a catch 22. It’s a lot of traveling, competition, this and that. You feel like you are part of an elite group, but when it all comes down to it, when you are done competing tennis it’s all over, you are like everyone else, but without all the past experiences that everyone already had so it’s kind like you almost playing catch up.” Andrew started partying later in life because he never went out or drank when he was in high school. ”It’s funny how later in life is when it all kicked in. 23-24 was when I was the craziest you know, I was trying to make up for the lost time I guess.”
“You feel like you are part of an elite group, but when it all comes down to it, when you are done competing tennis it’s all over, you are like everyone else, but without all the past experiences.”
When looking back he would definitely change a couple of things. When choosing a school he would chose a school little bit lighter on tennis, like top 20 but not national championship winner. ”Maybe I would get the full four years of competition and maybe it would have translated into something else. Then again, there were bad times but I would not have met the people that I met if I took some other, different path. I would have gone to Texas, I would not have met Linda and I would live in Austin, doing something completely different, you never know.” So does he have any regrets? “No! Maybe in terms of tennis, I would’ve chosen a different school, but even if I had played I would be done with it at this point anyway. I would not be playing Futures for 7 -8 years. Some of these people they play Futures for 7 years, they make no money. You travel, that’s fun but when it’s all set and done you hang up the sticks, you are 30 years old, no job experience, you are not done with school and have no money, you know, so you see some of these grinders, it’s kind of sad. Some of them just can’t let it go. So I’m kinda happy I was able to get out of it.”
What Andrew missed in order to make it, he answered that mental part was the toughest: ”I was the worst of the worst hotheads. I was fucking nuts. Never had injuries. My biggest weakness was mental and return game. My serve was so powerful that I did not even focus on my return.” Andrew opens up a new can of beer as he starts to talk about his current profession. “I am a bartender now. It’s not a lifelong dream but it’s good fun. I’m social with people. I’m a good communicator and I have the ability to talk to anyone. For me it’s easy to communicate with these random people.’’ Has he considered going back to coaching? “I would have to get back with motivated players, I would never go back to country club coaching. I could never do that again.’’ He agrees that tennis has been a big part of his life. “Sadly it’s what I know best, I have a lot of knowledge on it. A lot of experience with it, so in a way it’s a comfort zone, but at the same time it’s been a while now, it’s been almost three years since I left coaching so maybe I think I’m still comfortable with it but when I get back to it I will realize that ‘no, what am I doing’. It might bring back old demons and that is (?) why I left tennis in the first place. I met everyone in my life through tennis so that’s the benefit of it, but it will bring back a lot of demons. Brings back the memories of what I could have changed, the steps that I made and maybe screwed up on. If I could have my 18 year old self back with this brain it would be a different ball game but unfortunately that’s not how life works. The brain develops later when it’s too late. Fuck.” He laughs in amusement.
“If I could have my 18 year old self back with this brain it would be a different ball game but unfortunately that’s not how life works.”
…to be continued!