LEMOND: Emery rebounds from injury to lead UK

Then imagine being told that you will never play tennis again. That's exactly what happened to UK tennis player Matt Emery. As a sophomore, a freak accident left Emery blind in his left eye. During a UK match, a ball ricocheted off his racket and hit him in the eye. It cracked the retina - an injury that doesn't heal.

Imagine wanting to play tennis your entire life.

Imagine picking up a racket as soon as you can pick up a rattle.

Imagine following your dad to the tennis courts as soon as you could walk.

Imagine growing up a tennis star, winning a state championship, and then living out a life long dream by getting to play for your dad at your hometown school, the University of Kentucky.

Then imagine being told that you will never play tennis again.

That's exactly what happened to UK tennis player Matt Emery. As a sophomore, a freak accident left Emery blind in his left eye. During a UK match, a ball ricocheted off his racket and hit him in the eye. It cracked the retina - an injury that doesn't heal.

His life and his game lost focus.

"I felt like it wasn't that bad and that I could get through it," Emery said. "I took three weeks off and tried to come back, but it was so different. I couldn't even make contact because I had no depth perception or anything."

Doctors didn't even want to try surgery because they said there was no chance he would ever play again at this level. Those doctors were wrong. Emery found a doctor to perform a surgery to remove some scar tissue to help his vision. The surgery helped, but he is still legally blind in one eye. His vision in his left eye is 20-800.

He tried a comeback to play tennis at UK, but literally couldn't see the ball to even make contact.

"Guys I was beating 6-0, 6-0 were now beating me 6-0, 6-0," Emery said.

Still, he didn't get discouraged. He kept at it - practicing and working on his game, and then practicing some more, and he gradually got better and better.

His UK coach and father, Dennis Emery, said it was tough watching his son give up the game he grew up playing competitively from the time he was 6 years old.

"When you hear enough times that your career is over, I really thought he would never be able to compete again at this level," the elder Emery said. "I knew he would 'try' to play at this level again, and he has. His strength has always been his competitiveness and being strong-willed."

This past season, his senior season at UK, Emery helped lead the Cats into the NCAA tennis tournament playing both singles and doubles. The UK coach said his son not only competed, he competed well in clutch situations.

Matt says he wouldn't trade his injury for anything because it's made him a better player, and it's made him a better person.

He said, "I had a lot of doubts. I never thought I would get back to where I am now. I figured I might as well stick it out, and every year I've gotten better and better. It's been fun trying to come back from it and fun to overcome stuff. It helped me in a lot of ways. I tried so hard for a long time and saw no results. I learned that everything doesn't come right when you want it, and that hard work pays off."

At one time, Matt Emery was ranked number one in the United States in juniors. He has rallied from the brink of never playing the game he loved ever again, to stepping out on the biggest court in college tennis at the NCAA tournament.

His dad and number one fan has been there from the time Matt hit his first ball saying, "I told him the other day that I'm more proud of him now than when he beat the number 2 seed in Wimbledon juniors in 2002. Maybe a parent is the only one who can understand that, but to see what he's had to go through and all the adversity and have to come back, I'm as proud as I can be of him."


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