Matheson Klein hit what looked to be a beautiful, slicing backhand and stared ahead, setting his feet in anticipation of what was sure to be a tough return. When his shot landed just inches beyond the baseline, he glared across court and gripped his racquet tight in frustration.
It was another missed opportunity and just one of those days for Klein, a 23-year-old Australian trying desperately to make a name for himself in the sport he’s played for the better part of two decades. His opponent, English journeyman Alex Bogdanovic, took him apart in two quick sets during the final of the PNC Men’s Futures in Pittsburgh. After the match, Klein shook hands with Bogdanovic and dug deep for a smile. After all, the two were eating dinner together – and staying under the same roof – just the night before.
Welcome to the wild, wacky world of the USTA Pro Circuit Futures, where players battle it out for ATP points and improved rankings in furious, high-intensity matches – and many times end up in the same car after the match.
Klein and Bogdanovic, for example, were two of eight players staying in the same home during the tournament, becoming friends while understanding the possibility of facing off at one point or another.
“On the court, it can get a little bit heated, but it never gets heated in the house,” said Betsy Charles, who along with her husband and daughter hosted Klein, Bogdanovic and six others in their Mt. Lebanon home last week. “It is a very unique situation, but they’re such professionals and gentlemen. They’re all accustomed to playing with one another and beating each other. It’s just one of those things; somebody has to lose.”
Klein’s week at the PNC Men’s Futures of Pittsburgh epitomizes what some of these players can experience on a week-to-week basis. In the singles side of the draw, he faced doubles teammate and friend Yuri Bezeruk – who he had been traveling with for 12 weeks – in a three-set semi-final.
“It’s a funny thing,” he said with a smile. “Yuri and I had been traveling together for so long, we were basically living in one another’s pockets. We even warmed up together before the match. That doesn’t stop us from both wanting to win.”
That night, the two went back to the Charles household and had dinner with Bogdanovic, who Klein faced the next afternoon in the final.
“I had been staying with him for a week,” Klein said. “Just joking around and spending time together, I think we played in good spirits.”
So good, in fact, that even after such an emotional match, the two made plans to travel with one another to a tournament in Buffalo, N.Y. once they left the Charles home. Klein was originally schedule to fly back to Australia the day of the semi-finals, but rescheduled after he began playing well and realized he had a chance to make some finals. For Klein, like many others making their way through the Futures level, winning matches in the Futures is the only chance to improve rankings and earn spots into Challenger events and beyond.
To do that, though, it takes help from others. So as a host to the players, Charles helps to arrange transportation, meals and more during the players’ trip.
“I’ll bring groceries in yell ‘Boys, food!’ They’ll come right out, help bring them in and see what they can do to help,” she said. “And for getting around, a lot of them don’t have cars, so one of us will drive them over to the courts.
“We’ve never had any problems with the men who stay. It’s really been nothing but a positive experience.”
Charles added that being surrounded by players who are so passionate about the game and sacrifice money, time and comfort to chase their dreams has been inspiring to watch. It’s the reason, in fact, she continues to welcome them into her home each summer.
“The only rule in our household is that when you make it to a Grand Slam, you have to let us know,” she said. “We don’t need them to buy us tickets, but we need to have the chance to buy tickets so we can go support them.”
“Some of the guys we hosted this year,” she added, “are well on their way. When it happens, we’re ready to go.”