Tennis Birthdays: April 27, 2015

Another massive birthday day (what’s up with future tennis parents getting frisky at the end of July?)

This edition stars a hot up-and-comer on the men’s tour.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS), 20

A year ago, back-to-back wins in Challengers in Sarasota and Savannah (Jack Sock was the runner-up in that one), Georgia bounced the big Aussie teenager from up-and-coming to “watch out”.

And then, at Wimbledon last summer, he made Rafael Nadal watch out (and go home) before losing to Canadian Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals

He lost to Raonic in the first round in Paris, as well.

Raonic-Kyrgios - RG14_new

The product of a Greek-Australian father and a Malaysian mom, the exotic-looking, tall (6-foot-4) charisma-laden Kyrgios made a big splash in the spring of 2014, after losing two months to an elbow injury over the winter after initially making some noise at the Australian Open.

nickKyrgiosA year ago, he was about No. 150 in the world. As he takes on the field in Estoril, Portugal this week, he’s ranked No. 46 (down from a career-best No. 34 a couple of weeks ago).

Kyrgios was the No. 1-ranked junior in the world when he won the junior Australian Open in 2013, defeating another promising Aussie player, Thanassi Kokkinakis, in the final.

Watch out, world. But he’s got to stay healthy first. So far, his 2015 season has pretty much been compromised by back issues which, at his age, have to be a concern.

Kyrgios is just 5-4 on the season after losing a third-set tiebreak to another (then) 19-year-old, Elias Ymer, in the first round in Barcelona. Kyrgios hadn’t played since losing a third-set tiebreaker to Grigor Dimitrov in the second round at Indian Wells in March. Before that, he hadn’t played in two months, since losing to Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January. He even had to miss Davis Cup.

The next clay-court stretch is pretty rough on the body, especially for those who weren’t brought up on clay. We’ll see where he is by Paris.

 

Dinara Safina (RUS), 29

DinaraSafina_new

Four years ago, Dinara Safina was still a tennis player. But it’s been a long, long time since that was the case, even though she only officially announced her retirement a year ago in Madrid.

Safina at the 2007 U.S. Open.

Safina at the 2007 U.S. Open.

2010 was the year from hell for the likeable, emotional Russian. who had already been through being No. 1, answering a zillion questions about whether she deserved it without having won a Slam (that was a theme on the WTA Tour for a few years), and having her back go out at the end of the 2009 season.

Then she arrived all keen in Australia that year, and it went out again.

She missed three months, returning in Stuttgart. She missed Wimbledon. She lost to Daniela Hantuchova in the first round of the U.S. Open, and she missed her home-country event in Moscow with the back.

In 2011, she took a few baby steps, but then she tweaked her back in Marbella, forcing a retirement against Victoria Azarenka. Her relationship with longtime coach (and rumoured boyfriend) Zeljko Krajan ended, and a new coaching relationship with Gaston Etlis really had zero chemistry. She then chose former Italian player Davide Sanguinetti, who seemed to get the seal of approval from brother Marat, and we all know how much that means to Safina. 🙂

But then didn’t have much of an opportunity to do much. Brother Marat announced she was done in an interview in Asia, where he was playing an exhibition with Pete Sampras. Safina sorta, kinda denied it. You figured she’d make an announcement in due course, but it it took awhile.

She has occasionally hit a tennis ball, spends her time at home in Russia and in Monte Carlo, and in Madrid. It’s impossible to draw conclusions about someone’s life by what they Tweet (although many people try), so there’s no way to know if she’s happy, if she misses the game, what she plans to do with the rest of her life.

But one thing’s for sure: without 10 percent of her brother’s talent, almost exclusively with hard work and determination, the lady made it to No. 1. For a whole host of reasons, turning pro when you’re 14 (as Safina did) rarely seems to result in a long career. Unless you’re a Williams sister, of course.

Sebastien Lareau (CAN), 42

(Tennis Canada pic)

(Tennis Canada pic)

Lareau was one of those unexpected tennis success stories to come out of Quebec.

While he did okay as a singles player, he made a nice mark in doubles – and he probably could have done even better if he had been able to find that one right partner. Lareau started off well with compatriot Sébastien Leblanc; the two won the French Open and Wimbledon junior doubles titles in 1990 together.

In singles, he got to No. 76 back in 1995, shortly before his 22nd birthday, and beat top-10 player Michael Stich of Germany in 1994. By the standards of the current Canadian crop before the arrival of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, that was a pretty good effort.

Lareau got to the U.S. Open semi-final in doubles with Leander Paes in 1993. In 1996, he got to the Tour doubles championship and the Australian Open final with Alex O’Brien, the partner with whom he probably had  best success. He got to the Aussie Open final with O’Brien again in 1997, and finally won a Grand Slam title in 1999 at the U.S. Open, along with the World Tour doubles championships. He won seven titles that season, and finished No. 4 in the rankings.

But the highlight, no doubt, was winning the doubles gold medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, with countryman Daniel Nestor.

Since he retired, he’s been living in T.M.R. and was a pro at Tennis 13, then at the Carrefour Laval club. He’s done some TV commentary on RDS and was the captain of the junior Davis Cup team one year several years ago.

The last we heard, he had left the tennis biz and was in the insurance business. He’s married to Sylvie (a pretty good tennis player in her own right and an older woman – something we here at Open Court totally endorse), and a father.

Sybille Bammer (AUT), 35

SybilleBammer_new

Bammer was rather a late bloomer on the WTA Tour, perhaps not coincidentally after having her daughter rather early in her career.

SybilleBammeranddaughter2010_newShe ended up breaking into the top 20 at No. 19 at the end of the 2007 season, gradually working her way up after never getting much higher than No. 150 up to 2004.

At the WTA Tour event in Bad Gastein, Austria in July, 2011, she officially retired after losing 6-2, 6-1 to countrywoman Yvonne Meusburger.

Her daughter Tina turns 14 in July. she remained one of the few mothers on tour until she was done (more joined recently by Kim Clijsters and, just the last little while, by Tatjana Malek, Liezel Huber, Cara Black and a couple of others).

She’s kept a pretty low profile since then

Horacio Zeballos (ARG), 30

Zeballos was known as the king of the Challengers, and finally made a breakthrough in 2009 and started doing some things at the ATP Tour level, including a final at the St. Petersburg event that November. He won the Tour’s Newcomer of the Year award.

HoracioZeballos_new

The Argentine lefty peaked at No. 41 at the end of 2009, but has since struggled. He dropped out of the top 100 and has spent a lot of time trying to get back in. He did have a resurgence in 2013, winning his first ATP Tour title in that epic encounter in the final at Viña del Mar, Chile, which featured Rafael Nadal in his comeback event after seven months off the tour. He got to No. 39 shortly after that, a career best.

But any momentum you’d think he’d have gathered from all that was for naught. Zeballos is currently ranked No. 142 in singles (just below where he was a year ago, so not much progress).

His doubles peak was No. 32, and he has two titles; he’s currently at No. 85 after jumping six spots with a win in the Savannah Challenger last weekend.

(Lareau photo from Tennis Canada).

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