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Jesse Is Witness To The Highs And Lows Of Tennis Life

Jesse Witten

© Getty ImagesJesse Witten considered retirement earlier in the year.

He’s ranked No. 276, had never won a tour-level match before this week and now… he’s in the third round of the US Open. American journeyman Jesse Witten, 26, backed up his stunning first-round upset of Igor Andreev with a four-set win over Maximo Gonzalez Thursday to earn a place in the last 32 at Flushing Meadows.

Witten, who graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2005 with a degree in kinesiology (a.k.a the study of human movement), had a 0-6 record at tour-level before his crushing first-round 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 29 seed Andreev, who this time last year pushed Roger Federer to five sets in the fourth round. Witten is only the second player since 1995 ranked outside the Top 250 to reach the third round at Flushing Meadows.

The qualifier is now guaranteed to earn $48,000 – more than double his entire 2009 winnings – and would collect $85,000 should he win his next match and reach the fourth round.

“I've completed the spectrum, I think, this year,” Witten said of the highs and lows of a tennis player’s life. “Beginning of the year I was playing Futures events where it's a total purse of $10,000.  The winner gets $1,200 or something and it's a long week. You have no ball kids. You don't change balls, so the balls get this big. We're in some places that you probably have never heard of…  Mansfield, Texas.  Brownsville.  I don't even remember them, because half the time I didn't really want to know.”

Witten, who had made just $21,000 in prize money in the first eight months of the year, said that he had considered retirement at the beginning of the season as it became increasingly more difficult to fund his career. “I lost my sponsor who was helping me with expenses.  It's expensive to travel the world and play tennis, especially if you're not playing this level tournament and if you're not winning every match. So I was looking at it hard.  That's when I was fortunate to win a couple of tournaments and got on a roll, and it just kept building. I figured I was going to give it six months at first, and then I was going to play through the end of the year when I started winning some more.  I guess after this year we'll have to see where everything is at.”

Fellow American John Isner, who also spent four years at college (at the University of Georgia) advanced to the third round Thursday, defeating Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(1).

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