The last 18 months for Australian professional tennis players has been difficult. But for some, it's been more difficult than for others.
For some players ranked outside the top 500, it's been so difficult, that they have elected to stay at home instead of embarking on a lengthy, pricey stint overseas with limited opportunities to return home.
22 year old Moerani Bouzigue is one of those players, who's career has been halted due to the Covid 19 pandemic. However, two weeks ago, the Queenslander took a punt - hitting the road to chase his dream, and overnight clinched his maiden pro tour title in Tunisia.
A former world no. 76 in the ITF junior rankings, Bouzige reached the second round of the Australian Open juniors in his two main draw appearances in 2016 and 2017. Those two appearances caught the eye of several coaches, who were impressed by his talent.
Bouzige spent the better part of 2017, through to 2020 playing on the ITF World Tennis Tour, predominantly in Australia and Asia, achieving a career high ATP singles ranking of 1,125 in 2018. But like most players in his situation, Bouzigue's career was halted by the covid 19 pandemic.
"The last 18 months have been extremely difficult for not just myself, but a lot of Aussies," Bouzige told The First Serve.
"With two weeks quarantine being in place, it’s meant that when we are to leave, it needs to be for an extended period of time, which has a financial toll. When previously, most of us travel for 3-4 weeks before returning home," Bouzige said.
For the Aussies who stayed home, like Bouzige, the alternative option was playing on the UTR Circuit - a circuit which South Australian Li Tu dominated, leading to him earning a main draw wildcard at this years Australian Open.
"The UTR events were such a strong financial incentive to stay in the country that I wasn’t quite sure when or if I was going to travel for tournaments," Bouzige said.
"But I felt like I improved a lot over the break, that it would be a shame not to travel and try my luck at the futures level. And after seeing so many of the other guys from Australia doing well, it gave me that boost of confidence to take that leap."
So off he went. The Queenslander packed his bags, embarking on a lengthy stint overseas to chase his dream.
Two weeks ago, he arrived in Tunisia. And now, just a fortnight later, he'd be absolutely ecstatic he made that decision.
In his 36 tournaments on the ITF Tour, between September of 2017 and March of 2020, the Queenslander collected a plethora of qualifying wins, reaching the main draw in 12 of those 36 tournaments. But he only managed seven main draw wins.
Two weeks ago, he returned to the tour in Monastir, Tunisia, competing in the qualifying draw for a 15K ITF tournament.
Striking the ball beautifully, Bouzige qualified for the main draw, and made it through to the quarterfinals - his second quarterfinal on the ITF Tour. And amazingly, this week, in just his second tournament back on the tour after and 18 month hiatus, he qualified for the main draw again, and tremendously navigated his way through the field to lift his maiden pro tour title.
"I definitely feel like I'm playing some great tennis, but I think the difference with how I’m playing now is just the self belief I have compared to when I was a younger tennis player," Bouzige said.
"I would come up against those seeded players with not much trust in my game, which ultimately led to losing a lot of very winnable matches."
In these two weeks, his singles record sits at 11 wins and just a single defeat, and he's already equalled his seven career main draw wins in these two tournaments alone.
"My short term goal before coming overseas was to be in the top 1000, which I think I will have achieved in just these 2 weeks alone. With six more tournaments coming up for myself, I don’t see why I can’t improve a lot further on that goal," Bouzige said.
The tour now, compared to pre covid is completely different. Players competing in ITF tournaments like Monastir are restricted to staying on site, with limited opportunity to escape the tennis landscape.
"It’s been quite different to what I’m used to. Where I’m competing now in Monastir, we aren’t allowed to leave the resort where the events are being held due to COVID, which means we are always surrounded with tennis. But I don’t mind it too much considering I have been away from these types of tournaments for so long," Bouzige said.
The 22 year old plans to spend the next six weeks in Monastir before returning back to Queensland for the off season break.
"I have six more events for the remainder of the year before heading home, which at this stage are looking to all be in Monastir. I was contemplating heading to Greece for 3-4 weeks, but I feel like I’m playing some great tennis here and I enjoy the destination, so I decided to stay."
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