Another prime birthday day – including a legend and two more in the making.
Lordy, Lordy, look who’s … 45?
The younger man – his wife, the astonishing Steffi, er. Stefanie Graf is eight months his senior – no doubt is having much calmer birthdays these than he did for the big 4-0. The leadup then was the release of his memoirs and all the fallout from that. And then, at the charity exhibition in Indian Wells, the on-court tension with Pete Sampras. Remember all that? Pretty epic.
At the end of his career, and even as he started playing fun exhibitions, Agassi’s physical condition made you suffer along with him. Can’t even imagine how many injections he had. But all of that – and no doubt, his qualify of life, improved in a major way, a few years ago after Agassi had similar hip surgery to what Milos Raonic had, with the same surgeon, Quebec City’s Dr. Marc Philippon.
His post-career life has been exemplary, just a continuation of the journey the kid from Las Vegas made from brat to fully-formed human being. A lot of tennis players never get there. And while he can be a little preachy about it at times, look at all the good he’s done for disadvantaged kids with his charter schools.
Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan (USA), 37
The twins are the highest-profile doubles players on Tour, making a great living on their aggressive net play, their aw-shucks personalities and their twinny thing.
Every once in awhile, they drop out of the No. 1 spot. In 2010, Daniel Nestor and his partner Nenad Zimonjic were actually miles ahead in the rankings – nearly 3,000 points. But then Nestor and Zimonjic broke up, the Bryans kept winning. For a lot of 2012 and late 2012-early 2013, they also dropped down. But it never lasts long.
Bob’s the lefty, Mike the righty. Bob’s the one who got married first, to Michelle. And he’s now a father of two. Brother Bob married Lucille.
Off the court, they do their thing and play in a band (originally named the Bryan Brothers Band). We don’t know if they’re any good, but they get a few sweet gigs. They also do a lot of charity stuff, and are among the great ambassadors of the game. Better yet, they show no signs of slowing down. Then again (see Julian Knowle below), by doubles specialist standards, they’re still spring chickens.
Bob has 106 career titles. Mike has 108. They earned No. 100 at the U.S. Open last September, which somehow seems appropriate.
As a team right now, they’re about 600 points behind Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli on the road to London, mostly because the Italians shocked the world and won the Australian Open together. Individually, they have about twice as many ranking points as their nearest rival, Marcelo Melo. Canadian Vasek Pospisil is right behind Melo at No. 4.
The Bryans lost to Inglot and Mergea twice in the early going this year. Of course, that team has now split up. They lost to Pospisil and Jack Sock in the quarter-finals at Indian Wells, but got them back in the Miami final. And they won Monte Carlo over Fognini and Bolelli in the final. So they’ve avenged everyone, with three Slams to go.
The rather short, clever Italian is one of many terrific women players from that country, which has had Errani and Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone and Errani’s former doubles partner Roberta Vinci in the top 20 for years. It’s hard to believe she’s only 28; it seems like she’s been around for eons.
Relatively late in her career, she started playing BALL. Errani was ranked No. 41 in the world four years ago, and had finished in the top 50 four straight years. As she hit 25, she was at a career high No. 28 in singles and No. 12 in doubles.
And then, as they in French, le “déclic”.
Errani reached a career-best No. 5 just before the French Open in 2013. And, in doubles, she’s been No. 1 a lot of the past few years, and has won 25 doubles titles including two Australian Opens, a French Open, Wimbledon and a U.S. Open (and so the career doubles Grand Slam). In singles, she got to the 2012 French Open final and has eight titles, all of them on clay.
The French Open final was ironic in that, despite her clay-court prowess, she really had never done particularly well there in her career.
In 2014, Errani came back to earth (not with as big a thud as her doubles partner Roberta Vinci, who was really struggling, but still …)
She’s at No. 15 now, and you’d be hard-pressed to think that unless something changes, she’s likely to return to the top 10. Her match at Indian Wells last year– a schooling at the hands of Eugenie Bouchard – was an exercise in witnessing her increasing frustration on the tennis court. A year later, though, Errani is undergoing a bit of a renaissance, while Bouchard is struggling.
In the end, her 80-mph first serves have just started catching up to her. And there’s only so far those little legs can go to defend it. But Errani’s still going. She was a few points away from beating Serena Williams in Fed Cup in Italy a few weeks ago, finally succumbing in three sets. She won her eighth career title in Rio, but didn’t have to beat anyone in the top 60 to it. A title’s a title.
Meanwhile, she and Vinci ended their long doubles partnership. They played Auckland (a win) and the Australian Open together, and teamed up for the deciding doubles rubber against France in February in Fed Cup. They went out with a whimper, not a bang, trounced by Mladenovic and Garcia 6-1, 6-2. When Italy played the U.S., Errani teamed up with Pennetta – and they trounced Serena and Alison Riske 6-0, 6-3.
That’s all the doubles Errani has played; Vinci hasn’t played since that match against France. Perhaps, having done what they needed to and not getting any younger, they’re saving their energy for a singles stretch run. They’re still co-ranked No. 2 in doubles, with half as many events on their resumé as the new No. 1, Sania Mirza of India.
We first saw Doi way back in the juniors at the 2007 U.S. Open, where she and her equally adorable countrywoman Kurumi Nara had just pulled off a major upset in doubles against two players who have gone on to good WTA Tour success (and who were a whole lot bigger). Their names were Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ksenia Pervak, and the Russian fallout was an absolute soap opera to watch.
Meanwhile Doi and Nara just beamed from year to ear, signing every single big yellow ball with painstaking penmanship and feeling for all the world like they had just won Wimbledon.
Knowle is a doubles specialist who was as high as No. 6 in the rankings seven years ago. He’s looking awfully good as he enters his fifth decade; his ranking has basically stayed around No. 40 for the last little while.
He has excellent hair, it should be noted.
The lefty also was a decent singles player in his younger days, peaking at No. 86 in 2002.
Knowle has 18 doubles titles (including Auckland and Halle last year) and has made 23 other finals (including Doha this year). His career earnings stand at about $2.8 million.
Knowle got to the French Open mixed final in 2010 with Yaroslava Shvedova; they lost to Nenad Zimonjic and Katarina Srebotnik.
His biggest issue seems to have been a lack of a regular partner on Tour. He was sort of set up to play with Canadian Vasek Pospisil last year – probably not on the consistent basis he’d have liked given Pospisil’s priority in singles.
But that has been star-crossed; Pospisil bailed out of their Australian Open match a year ago after a few games with his back issues, and did the same the following in Bucharest.
A year later, déja vu all over again. Knowle and Pospisil won their first-round match in a third-set tiebreak. But Pospisil had a tough five-setter against Sam Querrey and a marathon against Paolo Lorenzi on one of the few hot days in Oz this year. So they went out to play their second-round match – and Pospisil again pulled the plug after a few days, his body acting up again.
Knowle was pretty POd, but he had to know what he was getting into. That’s pretty much why doubles specialists stick together, because they don’t have to worry about that happening. He still was able to put 11,500 Australian dollars in his pocket.
(All pics copyright Open Court, except the Getty Images embeds, and the Agassi-Graf pic, from the Las Vegas Informer)