WIMBLEDON -- This time last year,
"It was a volatile period for energy prices," the 24-year-old Fleming remembers of his decision to go pro. "Oil was skyrocketing and energy prices were going up with it. I liked the job. But I remember looking around the office and thinking, 'this is fine, but I have a talent, I have an opportunity that won't last forever.' I realized I had to go, otherwise I'd regret it for the rest of my life."
Even in a sport as international and varied as tennis, Fleming's story is exotic. As an undersized, brainy 17-year-old, Fleming enrolled at Scotland's Stirling University without ambition to play professional tennis. After a growth spurt in his early twenties, he decided to go pro, leaving school after three years. But just as he was finding success as a doubles player, earning a wildcard to Wimbledon in 2006 as the doubles partner of
"My first stint on tour, I just felt like I was floating aimlessly," Fleming explains. "I had no life outside tennis. So I figured it wasn't for me," he says.
There followed a period in which Fleming would go weeks without touching a racquet, and show up to amateur tournaments in Scotland and lose to middle- aged club players (disclosure: I played in many of these tournaments, and have stayed friendly with Fleming since that time). Fleming's coach,
Last fall, Fleming formed a doubles team with
In a sport in which only the top 50 doubles team in the world can expect to break even once travel and coaching expenses are taken into account, Fleming competes in an arena in which the only payoff to athletes is often being relieved of regrets. But even as he strives to answer the greatest "what if" of his life, Fleming rejects the role of jaunty amateur. He's hired a manager and put his father in charge of marketing. "There's a lot of love involved, I've loved every minute, but I'm also intent on making a living. I am looking after myself as a business," he says.
Even so, Fleming has been helped by the savings he accrued from his days in the office, and he admits that much of the pressure is lifted because he knows he can return to a successful career if tennis doesn't make him wealthy. While the money he won by beating the Bryan brothers, around $2,400, might not sustain him once he hangs up his sneakers for good, he can go back to work having experienced sport's sweet ecstasy at the highest level. "I can remember looking at the score board at 5-4 in the second set and realizing the scale of what was about to happen. We played one of our scrappier games, we maybe got lucky on one or two points, but once we won...it was the best feeling in the world."