Four years ago Sam Groth had given up on his tennis career.
On Monday night he won Australia’s top annual tennis award, the Newcombe Medal.
It’s a remarkable turnaround for the 28-year-old Victorian, who has shot up the ATP rankings in the past two years.
Ending the season with two Challenger titles under his belt, a world No.60 ranking and now the Newcombe Medal, Groth revealed how close he came to leaving tennis behind back in 2011.
“I was done,” Groth told AAP.
“I had applied to the fire brigade, I was coaching, I was playing footy. I really had walked away.”
The fire brigade’s loss was Australian tennis’ gain.
His turnaround came after a year’s sabbatical, partly spent playing amateur Australian Rules in Melbourne.
Finding balance in his life that was lost after a marriage breakdown to fellow pro Jarmila Gajdosova, Groth regained his appetite for the slog of the tour.
First came a world record serve – a 263km/h missile launched in Busan in 2012.
Then came consistency.
John Newcombe believes he has developed into an opponent other players dread facing.
“He’s a tough competitor,” Newcombe said.
“The guys hate playing him, someone who serve-volleys all the time and has some big weapons.”
Groth credits much of his growth to his coach and “best mate” Ben Mathias, who won the award for best elite coach at Monday night’s Tennis Australia awards.
“We’ve been on a journey for three years now … we have a relationship where we can be really honest with each other,” he said.
“My journey is very, very different to most of the people in the room.
“Having gone through what I’ve gone through, I have a real appreciation for how lucky I am.”
This season, he wants to find a home inside the world’s top 50 – a position he fell one win short of in 2015.
He’s identified the Australian Open and Wimbledon as his best opportunity to push into the second week of a grand slam tournament; another goal.
“I used to be scared of playing on the big courts in the big touranments,” he said.
“Now, that’s just part of the territory and I’m excited.”
Groth beat Sam Stosur, Dylan Alcott, Casey Dellacqua, John Peers and Thanasi Kokkinakis to the award. Higher-ranked Australians Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios were not nominated.