For the past ten years, Gavin Manders has dominated the local tennis scene and, ominously for his rivals, has no plans to relinquish his supremacy just yet.
Manders’s reign as No 1 is all the more impressive considering the significant trials and tribulations he has had to overcome to remain at the top.
Almost five years ago he suffered career-threatening injuries in a bicycle accident near Five Star Island in Southampton — the same spot that claimed the life of Craig Bean, Bermuda’s top under-18 player, in 2000.
Manders, who sometimes wonders whether Bean was his guardian angel that night, lost a toe and sustained ligament damage to his shoulder during the two-vehicle crash and took several months to “completely rebuild myself”.
With the help of his longtime coach Sam Maybury, physio Craig Brown, not to mention the loving support of his late mother, Disa Potgieter-Oubella, Manders was able reclaim the No 1 ranking he had held for the previous four years.
“[The accident] was very close to where Craig Bean passed away,” says Manders, who briefly lost his No 1 spot to David Thomas. “Certain parts of the tennis community think he was there to protect me.
“A lot of people doubted whether I’d be able to come back but Apex physio Craig Brown, who I have worked with throughout my career, structured a rehab programme to help get me back.
“Without my mom and Sam I’d have probably packed it in. Thankfully, I had a support system telling me that I could still come back. I was actually living with Sam during the rehab process. He was the one cleaning my toe — it was disgusting!
“I started over like a baby because certain systems in my body had shut down and I had to reactivate them. I rebuilt myself back from scratch.”
Desperate to play in the NatWest Island Games in Bermuda in 2013, Manders accelerated his comeback and played through severe pain to reach the singles quarter-finals despite being nowhere near his best.
“I was having trigger-point therapy just hours before each game, which wasn’t ideal,” says the father of two.
“I wasn’t going to miss it, playing internationally in front of my home crowd, that’s for sure.”
During the rebuilding process, Manders learnt how to compensate for the loss of his toe, focusing on biomechanics and believes he became a more well-rounded and efficient player.
“The accident actually ended up helping me,” said the 31-year-old, who was coached by Steve Bean as a youngster.
“I worked on improving my weakest areas and probably ended up being in better shape than before.
“I went through pain and suffered, but it allowed me to appreciate what I had. It was a godsend in many ways. It propelled me into the next five years and gave me the extra push I needed. I certainly don’t feel done.”
Manders, who was coached by Steve Bean as a youngster, almost quit the game before his journey to the summit had even begun.
Disillusioned with the sport while studying at the Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Manders walked away from competitive action, turning his attention to coaching youngsters at Port Royal’s “Temple of Tennis”.
It was while working alongside his mentor Maybury that Manders was able to rediscover his passion for the game.
“There was so much going on in my life and I just didn’t see the value in tennis any more,” says Manders, the son of former Bermuda cricket captain Arnold Manders.
“I didn’t have the will to keep doing it and packed it in.
“It was only when I connected with Sam Maybury and Jacob Trott at Port Royal while coaching children that I refound my passion for the game. Being around the kids reminded me why I played it in the first place.”
Manders has held the No 1 ranking for nine of the past ten years since dethroning Englishman Andy Bray in 2008.
Among Manders’s many highlights is becoming Bermuda’s most successful singles player in Davis Cup after winning his fourteenth match at the America’s Zone Group Three competition in Bolivia in 2016.
Jenson Bascome still remains the island’s most successful player with 32 wins (20 doubles and 12 singles), although Manders (seven doubles wins) feels he has plenty more Davis Cups in the tank, starting with Bermuda’s next campaign in Costa Rica in July.
“It’s a team effort, really,” Manders says. “My record belongs to Jenson, David, Neal [Towlson], Jevon [Whitter] and James [Collieson]. They were on the teams throughout that process.
“With the help of Apex, technology and a healthy diet, I hope to play for another five years. I plan on being No 1, although I’d like to see someone come along and take it.”
He added: “My mom passing at the end of this year is almost like the accident but bigger; it’s given me jolt to continue to give because that was her life. And my pops and stepmom [Robin] have also been a huge help.”
Manders, the head pro at the Rosewood Tucker’s Point hotel, admits his ten years at the top have coincided with a lull in Bermudian tennis.
With that in mind, he set up Manders Tennis Management last year, which offers tuition at the Fairmont Southampton.
Also serving on the executive is Maybury, fellow Davis Cup player Jovan Jordan-Whitter and Sarah Fellows, whose 13-year-old son, Daniel Phillips, attends the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy in Mallorca, Spain.
“Tennis has been struggling [in Bermuda] for a while, but I think we’re in a rebuilding process,” says the Bermuda Under-12 team coach.
“We hit a lull and there’s not a lot of players aged from 20 to 30 still playing at a high level.
“That’s why I set up MTM. The key is to get into the schools and get tennis into the curriculum, so we have more players playing from a young age. The Bermuda Lawn Tennis Association has been doing that for a while but they need help from other people.
“We lose players to cricket and football, but that’s because they’re not having the opportunity to play the sport. There should be a bigger crop in the next ten years.”
Given his passion for the game, and hunger for more Davis Cup wins, it is highly likely that Manders will dominate local tennis for a fair chunk of that period.