Five weeks after an impromptu solo camping expedition in Yosemite National Park, Dane Sweeny has landed back in the Sunshine Coast as an inspired man.
Most recently the Queenslander who elected to travel to Asia in search of ATP tennis in lieu of the safety of the North American challenger swing played the “match of [his] life” to qualify at the Shanghai Masters before “maintaining his level” and defeating Japan’s Taro Daniel (#97) in the first round to register his first Masters 1000 level main draw win 6-2, 6-3.
The win represented an evening of the ledger with the pair having met in qualifying at the Toronto Masters where Daniel prevailed in two tight sets. For Sweeny, who has spent most of the year on the Challenger tour, he was simply happy to be playing in the big leagues after a difficult year.
“I went into the week just happy to be part of the tournament really. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to play tournaments like a Masters 1000. I was just pumped to be part of it” Sweeny told The First Serve.
“I knew I had a chance after having a close one against Taro in Toronto. Especially if I kept my level from the second round [qualifying]. He didn’t make it easy for me but my level didn’t drop. It was really good to be rewarded with a good week after a tough year and some perseverance.”
Although he ultimately went down to Argentinean 25th seed Sebastian Baez - who Sweeny described as “the best player [he’s] ever played” - the following round, this past month represented a “big confidence boost” for the fleet of foot Sweeny who also qualified at the Zhuzai ATP 250 the week prior.
Speaking on what made this season to date so arduous, Sweeny, who has steadily risen from 800 in the world since the start of 2021, said he deviated from his processes and “started to check [his] ranking” as a life on the main ATP Tour became more than a remote possibility.
“If I had a good start to the year I could’ve been playing tour events all year” Sweeny recalled.
“The pressure and that little bit of doubt started to creep in. I’ve been working my whole life to play ATP Tour events and once it was within reach I started to doubt myself and worry about results instead of focusing on my process.
“I started being too passive and going away from what got me into that position in the first place.”
“But I wouldn’t change it and I wouldn’t start the year again even if I could. It was a massive learning curve and it's going to help me in the future for sure.”
Now sitting at 246 in the rankings (just shy of his career high of 225) Sweeny missed out on playing the US Open qualifying by a single spot but not to be disheartened, he elected to use the opportunity to take a moment’s respite. First alternate on the final day of first round qualifying, to Sweeny’s misfortune, all players took the court so the diminutive Queenslander, admittedly with some hesitation, jumped on a plane and flew straight to the west coast for a week without tennis full of solitude and introspection on a solo camping trip in Yosemite National Park.
“Once I landed I had two hours before my train and bus left for Yosemite” he said. “In those two hours I went to a luggage storage place and dropped off my bags and made myself a pack for the week.
“Then I went to Walmart and got a $20 tent and $20 sleeping bag and got the train and bus to Yosemite. I didn’t even have a foam bed, I was sleeping straight on the ground.
“To be honest I was a bit scared to do it in a sense but because that one part of me didn’t want to do it I just thought ‘stuff it, I’m going to do it’. I wanted to get away from tennis for a minute.
“It was unbelievable, climbing up mountains without responsibilities and to relax, go for a swim and meet new people.
“It’s something I’ll try to do more of.”
A deep thinker, Sweeny’s perspective of his lived experience and his tennis reflects that of a man long past his early twenties. As a close friend of fellow Queenslander and doubles specialist Calum Puttergill (#166), who himself has spoken on The Grind podcast about his philosophical journey through sport, Sweeny acknowledges there is “more to life” than tennis which, ultimately, is “a made up game” albeit one that he desperately loves. The pair often travel together and, in Sweeny’s words, are so close because they’re “on the same channel of consciousness.”
“It is very easy to get caught up in it but we both understand that there's a lot more to life than tennis. Even if we make it, it probably won’t give us everything we wanted like we thought we would when we were younger” the 5 foot 7 baseliner opined.
With the 2023 season now nearing its final weeks for tour players, Sweeny’s sights are well and truly set on the 2024 Australian Open and the young Australian announced he has bigger ambitions than just playing qualifying.
“I want to put myself in the discussion for a main draw wildcard” declared Sweeny.
“Failing that I want to be in the qualifying draw off my own ranking. There’s a lot of guys in that position so it could come down to these last few weeks.”
And how right he is. On current rankings, Sweeny is the fourth-ranked Australian outside the top 100 with only James Duckworth (#144), Marc Polmans (#151) and Adam Walton (#177) ahead of him. That said, Sweeny leads a cluster of nine more Australians separated by only 60 ranking positions hence a wildcard of any kind would not be assured for Sweeny or his contemporaries.
Moreover, the number of available wildcards for those outside the top 200 will be dependent on whether Australians such as Jason Kubler (#95) can stay inside the main draw cut off line.
With only 32 ranking points to defend for the rest of the year and a schedule including challengers in Playford and Sydney before a trip to Japan, Sweeny’s destiny is in his own hands.