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Rochester's greatest tennis player is calling it quits

There will be a warmup tournament in Winston-Salem (N.C.), followed immediately by the tennis world's year-end biggie the end of this month — the US Open in Flushing Meadows, New York.

Rochester native Eric Butorac has spent the last 13 years playing professional tennis. Now, at 35, he will retire retire after playing in this month's US Open in Flushing Meadow, N.Y.

There will be a warmup tournament in Winston-Salem, N.C., followed immediately by the tennis world's year-end biggie the end of this month — the US Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

And that will be it for Eric Butorac. The cheering — permanently — will have ceased. After 13 years of living his dream as an against-all-odds professional tennis player, that career will be done. He'll exit with good friend Scott Lipsky as his doubles partner, the final of five he's had as an ATP tour player.

The Rochester John Marshall 1999 graduate, who still rates his high school state singles title as his most thrilling tennis moment — though he has an Australian Open runner-up doubles finish to consider, as well as countless appearances in the French, Wimbledon and US Opens — is moving on.

At 35, the father of two, and about to begin a challenging and lucrative job as director, professional tennis operations and player relations for the USTA and the US Open — Butorac says it's time.

Time to settle into being a father. To be there for his kids the way his father, Tim Butorac, had always been there for him. To not be gone 30 weeks of the year playing tennis, in such far-flung places as Asia and Europe.


"I grew up with my dad being around every day," said Butorac, whose wife of four years, Maggie, just gave birth to their second child. Jack is 2, Charlie one month. "I want to be around for my kids the same way. I don't want my son to have to run up to me anymore before I get on a plane and say, 'Daddy, don't go.' "

Eric Butorac's retirement is a change that 30-year-old Maggie welcomes, though she's also appreciated this tennis ride.

She knows now how consuming professional tennis is, as well as its highs and lows.

Maggie wants Eric to live a more "normal" life for the sake of herself and her kids. She wants it for Eric, too, who she says is a tremendous father. Yes, pro sports can be glamorous, with the travel and some fame. But it's also a grind, and sometimes flat-out gut-wrenching.

Losing hurts. Having doubles partners leave you for other partners hurts, especially as happened to Eric in 2014 just as he seemed near the top of the doubles world. Having to say goodbye to your spouse for two-week stretches while you leave for tournaments hurts. And watching your kids get sad when you leave for tournaments, that hurts even more.

Maggie is grateful that Eric had this time. Grateful for him and herself. But it hasn't been easy.

"Without a doubt, I'm 100 percent glad he had his career," said Maggie, a former college tennis player. "But knowing that he will soon be a more regular part of our family, I'm really looking forward to that. He's an awesome guy to be with."

So, here comes. Here comes that big transition. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Butorac will go from one of the top doubles tennis players in the world whose identity has forever been built around running around in short pants with a racquet in his hand, to this new guy. This take-charge guy in a suit. Or a polo shirt and dressy shorts, at minimum.


Butorac says he's ready. Sort of.

"It's a big deal to me knowing that that this will be it," Butorac said by phone from Atlanta last week, just before flying back to his home city of Boston. "My biggest fear is walking away and wondering if I will regret (retiring). What will it be like to not be a professional tennis player anymore? There is fear around that. In tennis I had regular scheduled competition; it fulfilled my need to compete.

"There is also the status that I got from tennis. I always felt more confident when I met people because I was proud of my job. And when you're a professional tennis player, people treat you a certain way. To not have the energy that I got from that, there is some fear there."

Didn't see it coming

Almost no one pegged Butorac for any kind of long pro tennis career. He was a heck of a college player, winning singles and doubles national titles as a senior at Gustavus Adolphus College. But that was at the Division III level.

Butorac likely would have never given the pro circuit a try had he not been talked into it by a couple of friends. That included long-time best friend Gareth Keating, an Australian native who worked for a short time as a tennis professional for Eric's father at the Rochester Tennis Connection.

Immediately after Eric graduated from Gustavus in 2003, it was Keating especially who pushed him to move to France, where they'd try small professional satellite tournaments together. It was the camaraderie that Keating was looking forward to most.

"I was never sure that he would break through," Keating said. "How can you be sure? But I knew he would make the most out of the time. Make memories, make every tournament experience count, and make the most of every minute on court.


"Yes, he had a huge lefty swing serve and a big forehand. And yes he had unbelievable volleys. But ultimately he was a great guy to have around."

Butorac, too, was as interested in the travel and the friendship-making that would come with being a vagabond small-time pro tennis player as anything.

As for the tennis, he gave himself little chance of advancing. It wasn't as if he was emerging from a major program like UCLA or Stanford. He was coming from tiny Gustavus, in St. Peter, not exactly a factory for producing touring tennis pros.

"Division III college tennis players just don't play professional tennis," Butorac said. "Especially kids from Minnesota. But Keating kept saying, 'We're going to France.' He broke me down. I decided to give it a chance."

Upward bound

It wasn't long before Butorac realized he'd sold himself short. After taking the advice of former renowned Gustavus tennis coach Steve Wilkinson, who told him to "set your goal to be the best tennis player you can be," and to give it an entire year (then see what happens), good tennis things started to happen quickly for Butorac.

He was winning in France, and improving, and winning some more. Along the way, Butorac says he kept the proper mindset, refusing to get ahead of himself with boom-or-bust goals.

"I just tried to have fun at every level of it," he said of those early days.


And he kept living by Wilkinson's advice.

"I was focused on seeing how good I could get, and embracing every level of it," Butorac said.

Three years into that, he'd done it. He'd taken the leap that he'd never imagined. He'd accrued enough tournament points — a pile of them coming by winning a challengers tournament in which he and his then doubles teammate beat four straight ATP-level doubles teams — to have qualified in 2006 to play on the ATP tour.

Waiting for him there was an entirely new world. For Butorac, it was surreal. At his second ATP tournament, in Indianapolis, he was star struck. While stretching out in the players' locker room before one of his matches, there was another guy right next to him doing the same thing. It was Andre Agassi.

At age 25, Butorac had been emphatically introduced to the big time, something he'd previously only fantasized about.

A player, and then some

He both seized and relished his new life, and has never stopped doing both. It's been more than just getting to know such tennis icons as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that has thrilled and fulfilled him, or winning 18 ATP doubles titles and having played in countless Wimbledons, French, Australian and US Opens. It's also been the travel that comes with pro tennis, the relationships, and having a hand in the inner workings of tennis that he's coveted.

Until this past July, Butorac had served eight years on the ATP Player Council, a 10-player quasi union that works for such things as proper tournament compensation for ATP players and pension funds for past pros.


For two of those years, Butorac was vice president under Federer on the Player Council, and he just finished a two-year term as its president. Those credentials certainly held sway when being picked for his future job, as Director, Professional Tennis Operations and Player Relations for the USTA and the US Open. He starts that Oct. 1.

"I learned a lot of different things about the tennis business by doing that (Player Council work)," said Butorac, who developed a strong relationship with Federer along the way, among others.

"In pro tennis, it's not just about hitting tennis balls. There is a lot that goes into making pro tennis happen around the globe. The biggest concern for (someone on the Player Council) board is getting 200 players in the ATP all on the same page. Guys come from different countries and different beliefs. Everyone has a different concern."

Butorac, who believes his nomination for the council was the result of him being one of the few ATP players with a college degree (psychology), has appreciated every chance he's gotten to connect to the professional tennis world. He's not been one to hold back these last 13 years, whether playing, leading the council, or writing tennis blogs that have been published by heavy hitter Sports Illustrated.

Trimming his workload

Butorac says he inherited his love for tennis from his father. But his ample energy, he says, mostly comes from his mother. Like him, Eric says Jan Butorac is a go-getter with a penchant for piling things on her plate.

It's one big reason that Eric will call it quits as a tennis player once this US Open is done. It's not that he doesn't "have it" anymore. Butorac is currently ranked 45th in the world among doubles players (his highest ranking was 17th, in 2014). Current partner Scott Lipsky is ranked 40th.

His exit at age 35 is mostly the result of him changing his priorities. He doesn't want a personal plate that's piled so high anymore. His biggest desire these days is to be there for his wife, Maggie, and their two kids, Jack and Charlie.


It's time to get on with it. But first, there is one more tournament to play. The US Open starts Aug. 29. Tournament partner Lipsky, a close friend to Butorac these last 13 years, knows how he wants him to go out.

"I hope we win the US Open," said Lipsky, who earlier this year made it to the third round of the French Open with Butorac. "We are both playing at a high level. Just because Eric is retiring, that doesn't mean he doesn't still have it."

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