Aiken High grad chasing world No. 1 in real tennis
Camden Riviere has been here before: No. 2 in the world in court tennis with a chance to take over the top spot.
In the 2008 world championship, at the age of 21, Riviere challenged Rob Fahey in the sport from which lawn tennis – or “regular tennis,” as Riviere puts it – was derived.
For the next three-plus years, the Charleston native, who was raised in Aiken, battled a string of injuries that saw him fall to No. 4 in the world rankings. After hitting his stride in the middle of last year and regaining his No. 2 ranking in January, he’s training for the Australian Open – scheduled for May 6 through May 14 in Melbourne – where he hopes to get another shot at Fahey.
“It feels good,” he said of bouncing back from his injuries. “When I got the last injury, it was severe tendonitis in the wrist. I went from not knowing if I was ever going to do it again to playing my best tennis ever.”
Riviere began playing court tennis at the Aiken Tennis Club when he was 5 years old with his father Tiger Riviere, a real estate developer in Aiken who also owns barns used for training horses and riders. His grandfather, Hank Honeck, also played tennis.
Camden Riviere went on to play lawn tennis – played on hardcourts, of course – for Aiken High School, but he said that he was never able to give the more popular sport his full attention due to his court tennis schedule.
“I just did it to amuse myself, honestly,” he said. “Regular tennis was always there for fun while I was in town going to school.”
He explained that he felt more naturally gifted and built for court tennis to begin with. At only 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, Riviere – who will turn 26 in May – said that he would always run into lawn tennis players that were bigger and stronger than he.
In the more common form of tennis, that results in a player being able to overpower his smaller opponent. In court tennis, played indoors on a very specific court with walls and other structures that are in play, a smaller athlete can use cunning to outmaneuver his more powerful foe.
“In court tennis, with all the walls and everything, there’s a lot of angles,” he said. “It’s really complex. ... So what I found was, even though I’m not the biggest guy, I can out-think people.”
Riviere turned professional before he graduated from Aiken High in 2005 and moved to England to train. He also spent some time living in Boston. Even though he’s moved back to Aiken since then to recuperate from his most recent injuries, he said there are very few opportunities to do serious training here. The Aiken Tennis Club is one of two court tennis facilities south of the Mason-Dixon line, with the other being in the Washington, D.C., area, and Riviere recently has gone back to Newport, R.I., to finish training for the Australian Open.
“The game is biggest in America in the Northeast, so I spend most of my time there,” he said.
The task ahead of him is no small one. If he plays up to his ranking and makes it to a rematch with Fahey, who is from Australia, he’ll be facing a man who has won the last 11 World Championships, holding the title since 1994. The event was originally held every year until changing to every other year after 1996.
Despite the daunting potential opponent, Tiger Riviere said he has known Camden had a special ability since he faced Fahey in 2008.
“It’s spectacular,” the elder Riviere said. “On his 21st birthday, he lost the world championship to the greatest player in the world by one point. ... He’s not only gone ahead and performed, he’s outperformed.”
In addition to the World Championships, Fahey has won 10 Australian Open titles, but hasn’t won one since 2008.
While Camden Riviere would be more enthusiastic about loosening Fahey’s grip on the World Championship, the world’s second-ranked player said he has to push the overwhelming thought of reaching the apex of his sport from his mind.
“It’s exciting. Basically, the World Championship, to me, is bigger, but this is a huge step,” he said. “To be the guy who takes (the No. 1 ranking) away from (Fahey) would be huge. ... You try not to think about it, honestly.”