Tennis Birthdays – Aug. 17, 2014

A LOT of birthdays today – of all shapes and sizes.

James Spencer Courier (USA), 44

Courier was one of the big four that dominated tennis (not just American tennis) for many years, along with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang.

He got to No. 1 in the world at the age of just 21, and won 25 titles on the ATP Tour, including the French Open in 1991, and the French and Australian Opens in 1992.

Courier won titles on every surface – except grass. The closest he came was making the 1993 Wimbledon final.

After his retirement, he didn’t waste much time getting busy. He owns a company that puts on senior tour events in the U.S. And he stepped into the commentary booth for HBO (which broadcast Wimbledon at the time) practically as soon as he hung up his racquets. He was an insightful, well-spoken analyst from the very first day – as if he were born to do it.

Courier does a lot of work at the Australian Open for Channel 7 and, while we don’t particularly fancy him as the post-match interview guy (those things are so lame anyway, he’s wasted there and he must sense it, because he’s pretty sarcastic and often mostly about himself with his questions). Courier and Lleyton Hewitt in the booth in Oz is a particular treat if you’re there watching on TV. They nail it.

Courier also is the captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Sartorially, he’s breaking new ground; most captains tend to wear the team tracksuit as they sit on the sidelines during a tie. Not ol’ Jim – he’s usually sporting a suit and tie, as if he were Connie Mack or something (ask your grandparents). But it cannot be denied that he looks pretty spiffy. And his hair? Always impeccable.

A tie for the tie!  Hey!

Guillermo Vilas (ARG), 62

A bull of a man, the lefty won his fair share of titles during the Borg, McEnroe, Connors error (he was about Connors’s age, older than the other two).

He won 62 titles and nearly $5 million in prize money (a whole lot, back in those dVilas1975ays) but never made it to No. 1. He peaked at No. 2.

The Bull of Pampas is the only Argentine in the Tennis Hall of Fame (he was inducted in 1991) and the first to win a Grand Slam. He won four in all

An excerpt from his ATP Tour bio:

“His 1977 was a monumental year in the game’s history: He won 17 of 33 tournaments (tying Rod Laver’s record) on a record of 145 match wins against 14 losses. Among his souvenirs were an Open Era winning streak record of 46 matches and the French and U.S. titles. His streak, begun after Wimbledon, was stopped at Aix-en-Provence in September by Ilie Nastase, who used one of the controversial “spaghetti” rackets that produced weird strokes and bounces. Vilas quit in disgust; such rackets were shortly banned.”

Despite his pedigree, he didn’t win as many French Opens as he probably should have. He got to three other finals, but came through an era in which Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander owned the place. He did win the French and U.S. Opens in 1977, and the Australian Open in 1978 and 1979, when it was played on grass.

Vilas won the Canadian Open in 1974 and 1976. And he’s one of only four players (Connos, Lendl, Federer) to have more than 900 wins on Tour.

 

Daniel Koellerer (AUT), 31

Koeller reached a career high of No. 55 back in 2009, but he’ll probably be remembered more for his on-court outbursts than anything he might have done with his tennis racquet.

Daniel Koellerer

Koellerer is currently banned for life (since 2011) for match-fixing by the Tennis Integrity Unit, a decision upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That’s a massively serious thing; he’s the first-ever player to get sanctioned so severely, even though it’s an offence that seems to be fairly common in the lower echelons of the game.

Wrote the Associated Press:

“In August 2010, Koellerer and (manager Manfred) Nareyka were placed on two years’ probation after the player’s personal website listed odds for matches and had links to sites for placing bets. At that time, Koellerer and Nareyka admitted breaking rules about “facilitating betting.”

With all that free time, Koellerer has spend some running his mouth. A year ago, he said there was no way Rafael Nadal wasn’t doping after having the 2013 season he had following a seven-month layoff. Among other things, including his description of a match in Umag in 2009 against David Ferrer where, despite Ferrer still smoking 10 minutes before the match, he was running like a deer by the third set while Koellerer was gasping. But apparently all of the poisonous gangrene in tennis is being swept under the rug and HE is being the scapegoat for everything. The musings of the persecuted.

Long before all this, Koellerer had developed quite a reputation. He was suspended twice for bad behaviour. His opponents certainly seem to appreciate him:

 Johanna Larsson (SWE), 26

Larsson is a super jock whose tennis ability doesn’t quite come up to the same level, but who still has done quite well for herself.

Johanna Larsson

Currently ranked No. 96, she has two career WTA doubles titles and 28 singles and doubles titles combined on the ITF circuit. Her career highs are No. 46 in singles and No. 61 in doubles, both in the summer of 2011.

She reached the final of a $100,000 ITF event in Bógota, Colombia this past week.

 

Yung-Jan Chan (TPE), 25

Chan got to No. 50 in singles and all the way to No. 6 in doubles back in 2008. Currently, she’s No. 227 in singles and No. 33 in doubles and seems to be concentrating more on the latter.

She’s a good singles player, though. She’s always had a few fitness issues, but it seems to mostly be related to body type. Sister Hao-Ching Chan has a completely different body type, taller and lankier.

Chan has 12 doubles titles on the ATP Tour, and 16 more on the ITF circuit, along with 17 ITF singles titles. She played with a lot of different partners. And it almost seemed as though she was waiting for younger sister Hao-Ching to grow up and get her ranking up high enough to join her, so they could team up. Both are coached by Dad.

Yung-Jan Chan

All of her titles except one, in 2009 with American Abigail Spears, have been won with Asian partners. She has one with her sister, Shenzen in 2013. She also was a mixed-doubles finalist with Paul Hanley at the 2011 Australian Open.

Chan is still playing singles regularly, but she’s getting caught in that vortex where the tournaments she needs to play to beef up her singles ranking don’t correspond to the ones she can get into with her doubles ranking. She lost in the first round of qualifying in Montreal to Michelle Larcher de Brito in three sets; she and her sister got to the semis of the doubles, where the lost to eventual champs Vinci and Errani. They also reached the final in Charleston this year, another Premier event.

Her sister, just 20, is clearly already on the doubles specialist path. Ranked No. 1205 in singles, she’s No. 25 in doubles and already has three WTA titles to her credit.

 

Denis Kudla (USA), 21

DenisKudlaBorn in Kiev, Ukraine, the 21-year-old isn’t someone who came over for tennis and stayed. His ATP bio says he came over to the U.S. on his first birthday.

He’s currently ranked No. 121, after reaching a career high of No. 90 about a year ago. He comes out of the same facility (The JTCC) that is currently home to hot American prospect (and Orange Bowl champion) Francis Tiafoe. He decided to turn pro at 16 – after winning the Orange Bowl 16s, which is always a difficult decision and a tricky prospect.

Kudla squared off against countryman Jack Sock in the final of the junior U.S. Open four years ago. Sock, obviously, has had a more rapid rise with his big-league weapons, the serve and Howitzer forehand. Kudla, listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, is going to take a little longer. But he qualified at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year. And he has a pretty decent list of scalps so far in 2014: Donald Young, Jan-Lennard Struff, Lukas Lacko, Michael Russell, Tim Smyczek.

Kudla golfed for his birthday, with Tom Gullickson. Not bad.

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