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Ross Hutchins: Queen's New Leading Man (Part II)

London, England

Hutchins receives treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, England.© Getty ImagesRoss Hutchins received treatment at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, England, through the first six months of 2013.

Ross Hutchins was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December 2012. This week, as a cancer survivor, he switches his tennis whites for a suit as the tournament director of the Aegon Championships.

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Every two weeks, Hutchins spent six hours on a Thursday within the confines of the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, south-west London. “Being a tennis player helped. I was always really positive. I never felt that I wasn’t going to get through it. It never entered my mind. I was actually okay about it. I was ready for it.” Lindsay stopped working.

“The first thing I said to the professor, beforehand, when I first met him, was, ‘Can we start tomorrow?’

“He was all relaxed, saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if we start tomorrow or in two weeks or in a month.’

“I said, ‘Let’s kick off as soon as possible.’ I was ready to start that day.

“But as I watched television or chatted to fellow patients at the Royal Marsden, my mind started to wander. I thought about what I had missed out on as a professional tennis player and also what I valued. Four years ago, I was away for 42 weeks and the following season for 40 weeks. So I said to myself, as I lay on the bed, ‘When I am better, I want to spend more time with the people who I love.’ Learning that my treatment would be longer than I had planned, I insisted that the doctors attacked my illness harder.

“I wasn’t really that scared about chemo. I imagined feeling the worse I could be. So I imagined myself being in bed, blanket over myself for two weeks, for six months. But the opposite was true, I became very busy.”

For Hutchins, it can be said that ‘mighty oaks from little acorns grow’.

"I didn’t want to let him down by calling in sick."

Just two weeks into his course of chemotherapy, Chris Kermode, who is now the ATP Executive Chairman & President, reached out to him with a proposal. Hutchins recalls it was “to achieve something in the British summer that was in addition to Queen’s Club and Wimbledon. Nothing that could hold its own… More like a side piece to other tennis.” As the then Aegon Championships tournament director, Kermode joined forces with Hutchins, Murray and media director David Law to orchestrate ‘Rally Against Cancer’. “I was out and about, and making myself be busy helped me,” said Hutchins.

Organising such an event or coaching under-12s and under-14s at the Lawn Tennis Association’s headquarters at Roehampton stimulated Hutchins’ mind away from his treatment. It also got him out of the house. “I had chemo on Thursdays and I always planned a meeting for Monday. I forced myself into a routine every time I had chemo. It all depended on how well I felt. Sometimes, I might finish a meeting and return home to lie down for a couple of hours. On Sundays, I tried to walk with Lindsay and Sammy. I did that for six months. Chris invited to me into meetings every Monday, perhaps meetings that I should not have been involved in, but he wanted to get me out. He realised it helped me. And I didn’t want to let him down by calling in sick. He has been tremendous for me.”

The last of his 16 chemotherapy sessions finished on 13 June 2013.

Rally Against Cancer, 16 June 2013.Contested after the singles final, on 16 June, the ‘Rally Against Cancer’ charity match featured the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson; business magnate Sir Richard Branson, actor Eddie Redmayne, several comedians, Ivan Lendl, Tim Henman, Tomas Berdych and Murray. “We had a shortlist of 10 people and the first six we asked said, ‘yes’ immediately,” said Hutchins, who watched from the sidelines before he was coaxed onto the court. “We genuinely thought that if we could reach £100,000 it would be an amazing achievement. It was watched by 4.2 million people on television and raised close to £350,000 pounds for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.” Murray donated his £75,000 first-prize. “The impact it had was incredible,” adds Hutchins. “I was on holiday in the Caribbean [in early December last year] and people in the restaurant came up to me to say how amazing it was. I had the same thing happen at Miami airport. The event changed people’s perspective on cancer.”

After this year’s Aegon Championships final on 15 June, British tennis will remember Elena Baltacha at a 'Rally For Bally' charity event. Baltacha retired from the WTA Tour in mid-November last year and just a few weeks after marrying her coach, Nino Severino, she had been diagnosed with the liver cancer. She died on 4 May 2014, aged 30, fighting to the end.

"The attitude he had through the chemotherapy was always positive. I have not seen anything like it."

Hutchins was fortunate. He got news of the all-clear from his oncologist in July last year. “His whole attitude towards the diagnosis, treatment and recovery process was always positive,” said Jamie Murray. “It was pretty remarkable that one year on, he was back playing again in high-level sport.”

Hutchins resisted the opportunity to return immediately. “I was no-where near ready. I finished my chemo the way I had started it. I went from 85 to 89 kilograms, then down to 82 as some weeks I didn’t eat. When I started playing again, I had chicken knees, no muscle strength or endurance. At that stage, when I wanted to train I did so. When I didn’t, I took time off. A greater structure in my training regimen came in early December, under the guidance of Matt Little and Jez Green, when I trained with Andy in Miami for the fifth time in the past seven years. With Kyle Edmund, we rented a car to take us to and from the courts. It was good to push myself and feel real pace on the ball once again.”

He played his first professional tennis match in 15 months at Brisbane on 1 January 2014. “It has been great to have him back,” Andy Murray told ATPWorldTour.com. “He is a very good person, with a great attitude and an unbelievable work ethic. He went through a lot and it is amazing how quickly he got through everything. The attitude he had through the chemotherapy was always positive. I have not seen anything like it. There is no real surprise to me after how he handled everything that he is back to winning ways on the court now.” The highlight of 2014, thus far, has been a runner-up finish with Fleming at the BMW Open by FWU AG (l. to J. Murray-Peers).

Holding Court Live, London, November 2013Battling cancer taught Hutchins that there is more to life than tennis. The ability to juggle multiple projects is in his DNA. His father, Paul Hutchins, has been a major player in British tennis since 1962 – as a high-class competitor, Davis Cup captain, team manager, tournament director, coach, consultant and television commentator. Over the past five years, Ross, too, has combined a playing career with charity work, numerous media commitments – including as host of ‘Holding Court Live’ at last year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals – and his duties as a brand ambassador for Ted Baker.

“Before [my diagnosis], I was pretty harsh on myself,” Hutchins admitted. “I thought being No. 28 in the world wasn’t that good; I wanted to be better. Or when we [Colin and I] reached the quarter-finals in a couple of Grand Slams, I felt like it was a bit of a failure. Seeing things from a different angle, when you have gone through something like this, makes you appreciate things in a different way.”

"I want to keep giving myself challenges off the court."

So when Stephen Farrow, the managing director of the Aegon Championships, approached him in January for a prominent role at the grass-court tournament, which will attain ATP World Tour 500 status in 2015, Hutchins jumped at the chance. “As I was working on the ‘Rally Against Cancer’ project last year, I was involved in a lot of meetings where I learned about the tournament, logistics and budgets,” said Hutchins. “Stephen asked me to do a 30-to-50-day role this year, with the possibility of doing more in 2015. I understand the event. It is something I am passionate about, so it is a good fit.

“Combining life as a player with other projects does not concern me. I have done it for so long and I like to keep my mind stimulated. There are many hours in the day and it has been an exciting start to the year. Tennis has always been a big part of my life and always will be. But health, family, love, friendships, relationships is more important than that.

“I want to keep giving myself challenges off the court,” he said, as he scurried off to check up on developments in one of the corporate hospitality marquees at The Queen’s Club. At the end of the year with Andy Murray by his side as best man, he will marry Lindsay. "She has been amazing my whole career."

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