It's not every footballer who can say they've hit a few winners past a Grand Slam tennis champion. But Mat Ryan can claim that honour.
MAKING A RACKET
The Caltex Socceroos goalkeeper was a handy tennis player in his youth and met four-time Grand Slam winner Kim Clijsters during his time in Belgium.
Ryan's coach at Club Brugge was an ex-team-mate of Clijsters' father and introduced the pair who struck up a friendship on social media.
“When I went to Genk on loan she must have seen it in the media and we started chatting again,” Ryan told www.socceroos.com.au.
“I even had a hit with her, it was great fun.
“I like to think I'm a bit of a natural and even though I was a bit rusty I went out there and hit a few balls and a couple of winners against her.
“I've always got that in my locker now and can remind people that I hit a few winners against a Grand Slam champion!
“She's a lovely person, very kind, and we're still in contact now,” he said.
CONFEDS CUP CAN BE A LEARNING CURVE
At just 25 years old, Ryan has played 33 times for his country, making him easily the most experienced goalkeeper in Australia's Confederations Cup squad.
Mitch Langerak has made just eight appearances for the Caltex Socceroos while Sydney FC custodian Danny Vukovic is uncapped.
But fresh from signing a five-year deal with newly promoted English Premier League side Brighton and Hove Albion, Ryan believes he's nowhere near the finished article.
“You're always continuing to learn,” he said.
“I've got more experience under my belt playing big opposition, bigger teams, big individuals.
“It's only going to help me and - other players who have been in the same boat - this time around in these sorts of tournaments.
“We've had the success of the Asian Cup and while we weren't playing the big teams of Europe or South America, it was still obviously a very competitive tournament.
“As a reward for winning that we find ourselves in this situation now where we're playing some big teams.
“We're keen as a team to go out there and show the progression we've made since the World Cup and the games we've played against these sorts of teams post World Cup.
TIME TOGETHER CAN REAP REWARDS
As important as the quality games the Caltex Socceroos will play in Russia is the time the team will spend together ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers later in 2017.
Australia visits Japan on August 31 before hosting Thailand six days later.
“Common sense will tell you the more time you spend together as a unit, the more you understand yourselves as a team and the individuals in the team,” said Ryan.
“You get more accustomed to the philosophies of the game plan and what the coaching staff want from you.
“We're eager to show Australia and the world that we can make some noise against this sort of opposition at big tournaments like this.
“There's all to play for here and hopefully at the World Cup next year.
RYAN’S CRUCIAL ROOS ROLE
While goalkeeping can sometimes seem like a lonely proposition, Ryan insists that's not the case.
“What the coaching staff ask of the goalkeeper in this team is to be very high and very engaged with the team,” he explained.
“We always say our first defender is our striker and our first attacker is our goalkeeper.
“There's a lot of involvement on a personal level for the goalkeeper, whether it's me or one of the other guys who are going to be playing.
“Like any player, you need to be present, you need to be switched on and ready to contribute to the team.
“Being a goalkeeper is no different,” he added.
TIMMY NO TENNIS TYRO
And while there won't be much time for tennis in Russia, Ryan would be happy to take on all-comers in the Caltex Socceroos side if the opportunity arises.
But he clearly doesn't rate the form of team-mate Timmy Cahill.
“Timmy's got a court in his backyard in Melbourne but he's not too handy with a racket I don't think,” Ryan said.
“His hand-eye coordination isn't as good as his feet or his head!”
When are your Caltex Socceroos in action this weekend?
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