Nottinghamshire tennis prodigy Phoenix Weir is preparing to jet off for junior tournaments right the way around the world as we sit down for a chat.
The Bingham-based 17-year-old is Britain’s best under-18 male tennis player, and his schedule is predictably packed in the busiest year of his career yet.
“I’m going to South America, I think we fly on Thursday morning. We’re there for three weeks and then probably come back around February 10,” Phoenix said.
“That should be good because I’ve never been to those places before.”
Phoenix, who hails from a passionate tennis family and has had father Alastair as his coach throughout his youth, has come a long way since seeking crowdfunding to support his early steps.
His story first garnered attention back in 2021, when Phoenix’s mother Ruth began running a GoFundMe page which reached a significant target of £10,000.
“That money was a huge help, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to leave the country or anything.
“It was a really big help and I’m really grateful for [the community]. They came in at a very needed time.”
Phoenix’s results during that time pushed him on to further opportunities, and by July 2022 he was selected to join the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) National Academy.
LTA support secures funding for Phoenix to travel to international events and led to him being signed by IMG Sports Agency, which has opened new sponsorship partnerships.
Overall, 2022 proved to be a breakthrough year for Phoenix.
“It was really good year. Getting a place in the academy was incredibly big,” he said.
“It was [also] a big change; a lot more travel and a lot more time away from home.
“You’re working with a lot more people, like now I’m working with the team they have in Stirling of like 15 people, and obviously going from one person doing everything to 15 is a massive thing in [terms of] communicating with everyone.”
His place at the facility in Scotland allows Phoenix to rub shoulders with the very best of British tennis, while opportunities to train at facilities in Loughborough and London have also extended the youngster’s experience.
Over the autumn, Phoenix was able to practice ahead of important junior events by hitting with Sir Andy Murray.
“It was weird because I remember hitting with him for the first time and it was like, you grew up watching him like on TV and then you hit him with him and it’s a bit surreal for like the first 10 minutes.
“You’re a bit baffled about how you get in this position where you’re training with him and after 20 minutes you just get used to it. But it is a weird feeling for sure.”
Having recently completed a senior LTA-run tournament in Loughborough where he picked up a win against 23-year-old Croatian qualifier Vito Tonejc, Phoenix is cracking on with his 2023 plans now.
“I set goals before the end of last year, in a meeting we had, [my coach] was like to get top 30 in the world junior [rankings] and get a men’s [ranking] point.
“I’ve already got half of the goal; I just need to get the other half.
“The next few weeks will be a good opportunity to do that, and it would be nice to do it in the first month.”
The top 30 ranking is a necessary step to qualify for the Boys Singles’ tournament in each Grand Slam, and with the 2023 Australian Open currently underway, focus is inevitably centred on this scale of event currently.
Phoenix stated that he was hopeful of making the French Open and “one of the most exciting” events in the US Open, while he could also expect a wildcard for Wimbledon due to his British ranking.
Between then, it will be a case of scouring the globe for ranking points, with initial destinations of Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
From previous experiences, these countries can certainly bring unexpected adventures.
“[On a previous tour] we were in the Dominican Republic on the motorway and it’s like completely jammed in traffic. And there are these guys who are like wearing like monster costumes banging on people’s cars, with what – hammers? Nails?
“We didn’t really want to be at the car at that time.
“That was probably the most frightening [experience]. Yeah, actually, someone got right back on the street. And this woman just has her handbag stolen.
“And then two other guys who are like walking by the beach, went up to that guy and battered them around and gave her the handbag back – it was just big carnage.”
While an LTA-organised itinerary is less likely to be fraught with such danger, there are many hurdles Phoenix will have to jump on the tough road to success.
With the players he models his game on including Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios, though, there’s plenty to admire in Phoenix’s level-headed and assured approach.
Of course, with a name like Phoenix too, there has already been much interest from fans in how the Brit develops.
One tennis forum opened a thread by saying: “Phoenix deserves his own thread as not only does he have a cool name but, as of 31 Jan 2022, he has entered the adult singles rankings, aged just 16, and thoroughly deservedly too.”
So, before we ended our call, I had to ask where the name came from.
“I think it came from China to be honest, because my parents used to work there and live there. And obviously, it’s like the dragon and the phoenix or something.
“They decided dragon was a bit explicit, so I got the other one.”
If he can evoke the power of that Phoenix, then this young Brit will certainly be one to watch in the months and years ahead.