Billy Harris' tennis journey goes from Isle of Man to van life in Europe to Wimbledon

LONDON — For tennis player Billy Harris, it’s all about the journey.

Harris lost in his Wimbledon debut on Tuesday but he’s won over some fans at the same time. That’ll happen when your back story involves leaving home on the Isle of Man to live out of a van while playing tennis tournaments around Europe.

Making his Grand Slam debut at the age of 29, Harris lost to Jaume Munar 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 at the All England Club.

“Great feeling at the start. Then obviously when you lose, it’s not quite the same,” Harris said in matter-of-fact fashion.

His paydays are not quite the same these days, either. Harris earned about $76,000 for his first-round loss, and he’s also playing doubles starting on Wednesday with Liam Broady. Harris’ career prize money total beforehand was just over $400,000.

“Definitely, it took me a lot longer than most people to get here. It’s been a long journey,” Harris, who is at a career-high ranking of No. 116 and several years removed from living in the van, said at a news conference before the tournament started.

Earlier in his career, Harris spent more than three years driving his white Ford Transit van around Europe to save money while playing in lower-level tournaments.

Harris and his father built a wooden frame for a bed in the van.

“He told me the story,” Broady said. “He stopped off in Dover on the way to mainland Europe and picked up three months’ worth of canned tuna and Uncle Ben’s rice. That’s all he lived off for three months. There’s not many people who would have been willing to make the sacrifices Billy has.”

Luke Lacey cheered on his childhood friend as Harris won the third set to not leave empty-handed. He said Harris has been “a huge inspiration for kids in the Isle of Man.”

Population 84,000, the Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and northwest England. Cyclist Mark Cavendish is from there.

“It was a lot of trips across on the boat to Liverpool,” Harris said of his earlier days. “There’s not so many players to train with on the Isle of Man.”

Harris ultimately moved on from van life in his early 20s after one particularly long stretch in Poland.

“My dad used it for a little bit after me, and then the engine blew up, so that was the end of it,” he said of the van’s fate.

The 6-foot-4 Harris drives a Mini Cooper now.


AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.


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