Young tennis prodigy, Dane Sweeny, has asserted himself on the Australian stage but now he looks to test his abilities overseas as he takes on some of his toughest competition yet.
After competing at the Junior Roland-Garros, Junior Wimbledon and Junior Australian Open tournaments at an early age, Sweeny reached a high of 21st in the world in the ITF Junior Rankings.
In back-to-back weekends last year, Sweeny won his first two professional tournaments in Canberra, sparking a further five tournament wins to this day.
His recent ACT Clay Court International win in Canberra last month will provide him with a boost of confidence however some talented internationals still await.
I sat down with Dane to talk about the pressures of professional tennis, the undulating nature of the sport and how he hones his mindset to maximise his potential.
Q: How did your Junior Grand Slam opportunities set you up as an athlete to compete in the ATP and ITF tournaments.
A: It was a great experience, when you’re young and even now, I’ve experienced a lot of nerves like I don’t remember being as nervous as before I played my first Junior Australian Open. I think it’s just the experience of playing like in really high pressure moments, cause that’s something you have to face throughout your whole career. So it’s getting a good kickstart on how to deal with those kind of emotions and all like the racing thoughts. I think the main thing is just really learning how to deal with those stressful environments and how to try and maintain a good level.
Q: You ran a GoFundMe page when you were 18, how much did those donations and support from people you know, but also from strangers help you in realizing that you have every opportunity to make tennis your career?
A: I think it was good financially, first of all, but also just think even bigger just amazing how many people believed in me especially like close people. It’s just really reinforcing that I have a lot of supporters and even strangers which is a great sense of belief. It’s extremely expensive being a tennis player, it probably costs about, I’m going to say without a coach, maybe 60 grand a year, maybe even more these days… In saying that I’m at the level where I’m playing challengers so the accommodation’s paid for, for most of the days but still it’s an extremely expensive sport. Nonetheless, those dollars helped me for sure.
Q: How much confidence did you take from winning your first and second ever professional tournaments and how did that propel you to keep on winning tournaments in 2022?
A: I mean, I always believe I’m a good player and that I’m gonna make it but it’s still tough to have that confidence to do it in the short term. I would play those tournaments, especially the first few times I would play them I’d just go like, ‘how am I seriously going to get to this level this quickly? You know, watch the guys that are doing really well, like, they’re so much better than you’, but then as you play more and more tournaments, it starts to feel more normal. It doesn’t feel like you’re playing up anymore, and then you start making maybe a second round and then maybe a quarters and then you see other guys around your level or maybe the people you think you’re better than and they’re winning these tournaments and then you start to gain belief that you can really do it right now. I think just after I won my first one I thought I could just do it over and over and over again.
I feel like there’s an aspect of belief that comes with actual results and another aspect that comes with just hard work and I’ve definitely put in the hard work. So after that first win, just kind of a big sigh of relief, but also massive boost to my confidence that I can do it over, over and over again and I’ve proved that and I did.
Q: Does your objective change tournament by tournament, especially your first couple of tournaments compared to where you are now?
A: I think the main goal like, obviously everyone’s out there to win but especially at a young age and when you’re playing these tournaments for the first few times and maybe the first year on the tour and even now, it’s just all about trying to improve, improve your game, and develop your game as well as like trying to find a way to win.
It’s easy, I’ve done it myself, where I’m playing a brand of tennis that’s probably not gonna make me a better player, but I’m just so scared to lose. So I’m just like trying not to miss and I’m not really developing my tools. I think the priority and the objective’s always the same you’re trying to really develop your game as well as win, you don’t wanna just go out there and play stupid.
Q: What are some of the pressures on yourself, either internally or externally, that are placed on you to win matches and push yourself up the rankings?
A: I guess growing up every kid’s told that winning is everything and I grew up and I guess a lot of kids grew up probably thinking that if you don’t make it, then maybe life’s not going to be as fun or as enjoyable. So I guess from an early age, we’re conditioned to believe that winning is everything so I guess that there’s always that pressure from early childhood.
No one really put that on me, my parents or anything. I think it’s just the culture we live in today. So I think just having that dream of making it from before I could even remember, when you get to these moments where I’m in my career now where I’m kind of very close to making that breakthrough, you can definitely feel the pressure.
I think it’s mainly just the pressure put on myself of just wanting to achieve what I’ve put all of my life into, you know, I’ve dedicated my whole life to this, this thing that I’m trying to achieve, and right now I’m knocking on the door.
So it’s quite intense emotions that come along with that journey. Just at the moment, just trying to be really kind to myself and remember that making it is not everything, it’s about just being extremely present and trying to enjoy the journey.
Q: With your career at an all-time high, does sticking to the process and worrying about your own game play into the back of your mind if results don’t go your way?
A: I’ve struggled with confidence a lot, like with anyone, but I’ve always believed that I’m going to make it somehow… I’ve always just had that in my head, I don’t know if it’s just delusion or something, but I’ve always just had this feeling that I’m going to get there.
So, yeah that kind of helps me to stick to the process and that has stopped me from quitting tennis when it’s got so hard because I just always have this kind of energy pushing me and that energy that believes that I’ll get there one way or another. So it’s just all it is for me is trying to stick to the process cos’ my tennis is good, like I’ve definitely got skills and stuff, but it’s just about the consistent day in, day out mental application and also just being super kind to myself and trying to shift the paradigms that I’ve been taught to believe that like results are everything and try and shift that to being much more process based and therefore I’m probably able to enjoy, enjoy the journey a lot more than just think about the destination.
Q: When you go into a tournament, how much of a setback is it when you get knocked out in the first or second round of a tournament that you had high expectations for?
A: Yeah, losing sucks. I’ve definitely noticed, especially later in my career, like recent years… if I’ve put in a really good mental performance and I’ve stayed really present and I’ve stopped myself from going down the rabbit hole of like emotional reactivity and just stayed really calm and done my best to problem solve my way through the match and perform my ass off, losing actually doesn’t hurt as long and as much cause you gave it everything. It still hurts nonetheless, but I definitely find that regardless of the tournament or what round I lose, if I am kind of not there mentally, then that really, really hurts me for a few days.
Q: Are there skills you’ve learned in your playing days that have helped you to control your emotions?
A: Yeah, I mean this is a big focus point of my career at the moment, I play with my heart on my sleeve. At times it can definitely steer me away from the present moment and if I’m not in the present moment then my energy’s just not where it needs to be. So I think meditation has been an amazing tool. For me, once you meditate enough, you really know when you’re present, and when you’re off in your thoughts. I’ve kind of tried to bring a little bit of that to my on-court routines, if I’m feel like I’m losing I can maybe take a few mindful breaths or I can look at something on my racquet or just feel the sensations of being in the present moment. Maybe stop to feel your feet touching the floor or you look at something very concentrated for a few seconds, it’s something to bring you back to the present moment.
Q: At just 22 years of age, where do you see your career going and how can you improve your game and your mindset to reach that next level in your game?
A: I definitely think I’ve played enough tennis where I know I’ve got the skills and I’ve got the ability. Obviously a lot of things that I can work on and I’ll be working on things until I quit tennis. So I think mentally I can make improvements, I feel like I’m making really good progress, but still that’s probably where I’m going to make the leaps and bounds, putting that consistent day to day mental effort and I think more specifically just trying to maintain that real nice calm presence from sport in particular… That’s going to be the best teacher for me, just keep playing tournaments, keep getting experienced and results will come.