By Gary Heatly
Jacob Fearnley, who left Merchiston Castle in the summer of 2019, has been reflecting on the past year which he has spent studying and playing tennis in America.
The Merchiston Tennis Academy was set-up in 2007, and since then many quality players have gone on to great things after school with a racket in their hand – and Jacob is no different.
He joined the school when he was 12 and steadily over the next few years became a more rounded and more assured player thanks to the time he spent working with then Director of Tennis David Brewer and other coaches.
It allowed Jacob to start competing in tournaments around the UK and eventually the world when he was involved in the junior Australian Open in Melbourne back in January 2019.
At that same time, Jacob was getting ready for his final school exams and also weighing up where to continue his education – and his tennis – journey.
In the end, he decided to head to Texas Christian University [TCU] in Fort Worth in Texas, and he was having a great first year there during 2019/20 until the current Covid-19 situation forced him to come home to Edinburgh.
“I look back on my time at Merchiston with loads of great memories,” Jacob, now 18, said.
“Before I joined the school I loved my tennis, but didn’t always have as much time as I would have liked to play and brush up on certain parts of my game.
“However, at Merchiston, it was very structured making sure that the balance between education and tennis was right and it meant that you could focus on things without feeling like you were juggling everything at once.
“The coaching and facilities were excellent from my point of view; Mr Brewer was a great sounding board for me. Being around other talented, and like-minded individuals in the Tennis Academy helped me raise my standards and take my game to the next level.
“Going to the Australian Open when I was still at school was an obvious highlight, and I can’t thank the people there who helped facilitate that enough. Mr Brewer and others also gave me great advice when I was deciding where to head after school finished too.”
Since the university’s earliest years, TCU has embraced a rich tradition of athletic excellence.
That has continued in recent times, for example in 2017/18 11 of TCU’s 21 sports were ranked in the national top 25 in America, and last month 10 of the university’s American football players were snapped up in the NFL draft.
As a result, Jacob was keen to go there, and he certainly feels like he has made the right choice joining a university whose sports teams are known as the ‘Horned Frogs’.
“I went over to TCU in August, and I have been loving things there so far,” Jacob said.
“Academically I have been learning about a few different subjects as I prepare to decide what I will major in while for my tennis I feel the move has definitely been the right one.
“Before I headed there, I had spoken to the coaches a lot and a British player who was already part of the tennis programme, so I felt like I fitted into my new surroundings pretty quickly once I arrived.
“When I first got there last August the temperature was very warm, and the different type of training took a wee bit of time to get used to, but there is such a great squad mentality there and we all train hard together.
“To be playing with the other tennis team members day in and day out is brilliant for me, there are people on the team from lots of different countries, and we gel well.
“And Cameron Norrie [the world number 77 and one of Great Britain’s top male players] used to study at TCU so he is sometimes there training and to be able to learn from someone of that calibre is just amazing!”
A general week of tennis for Jacob in Fort Worth during 2019/20 saw him doing some individual sessions in the mornings with squad practices in the afternoons.
He also often had gym sessions at 7am and fitted classes in and around that.
“It certainly kept me busy, but like at Merchiston I enjoyed the structure of things, and it allowed me to focus on what I was trying to achieve,” he explained.
“I played a few Futures tournaments between August and December which I did pretty well in, and that helped my confidence.
“From January until lockdown we were playing matches as a team against other universities. The standard was pretty high, but we all wanted to do well and representing TCU means so much to the students, we take a lot of pride in that.
“It was a shame that my first year was cut short, but it is nice to be back in Edinburgh seeing my mum now and recharging my batteries, and I can’t wait to head back to TCU for 2020/21 and beyond.”