Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 17, 2016

Keys now of age.

Madison Keys (USA), 21

Keys2

Keys back in her junior days, wrapped up.

The tall, strong young American came on a year ago, on about the same timetable as the one-year-older Genie Bouchard, with a big semi-final result at the Australian Open.

She’s a big hit with Open Court because, unlike the vast majority of the sisterhood, she can serve. What she now needs is to find the consistent game to go with it. And, consistent health.

Today is also the seventh anniversary of her turning pro. Yeah, we know … Do that math.

Whenever we watched Keys play in the juniors, she more often than not had some body part wrapped up – usually an upper leg. That seemed to be mostly gone now that she’s a full-time pro. And her fitness level also seemed to be on the upswing. Except recently, the leg/groin/adductor issue has returned (not on the right leg, as in the pic, but the other).

It flared up at the Australian Open last year, and there was some big strapping by the end. And again this year. She also pulled out of representing her country at Fed Cup in Argentina a year ago.

The addition of Lindsay Davenport as coach last year – first on what seemed to be a consulting basis but then, along with Davenport’s husband Jon Leach, what seems to be a full commitment, was something that can only be evaluated later on – although obviously their first tournament together was spectacular.

Keys-Davenport_new

Keys has a pretty close-knit family, and quite clearly she fit right in with Davenport’s big brood. As the former player said, her kids love Madison, so it was a go. Whether that comfort zone was to be a positive, or too comfortable for someone who is now near the top and striving higher, where it gets tougher, again was another question that could only be answered with time.

Keys teamed up with Nike twinsie Tomljanovic in doubles in Australia

Keys teamed up with Nike twinsie Tomljanovic in doubles in Australia

The take here at Open Court from the get-go was that it wasn’t the optimal setup – not only because of the comfort zone, but because if Davenport had her priorities right, coaching Keys would be about No. 4 on the list – after her husband, her kids, and her job at the Tennis Channel. As well, Keys isn’t at the stage of her career where the “super-coach” concept, so trendy these days, is in play. She’s still in full development, or at least so it seems from this vantage point.

It ended up that Leach, who had no real coaching experience to speak of coming in, was doing the heavy lifting and Davenport would have tournaments (as in that first Australian Open) where she was coaching Keys, doing work on the Tennis Channel and playing the seniors events. And so, by year end, it was announced that indeed, her schedule wouldn’t allow it.

So Keys went with Jesse Levine, the congenial Canadian-American whose elbow wasn’t going to allow him to keep playing on the ATP Tour.

Levine, as well, had limited coaching experience; the main attribute he seems to bring to the job is that Keys has known him awhile, and gets along with him well. Team Keys is now a friendly, congenial group with the addition of physical trainer Scott Byrnes, who had a tough ride with Genie Bouchard at the end but bounced back with Keys by Wimbledon last year.

Here’s one of those weird Oz Open moments we captured – Keys and Tomljanovic taking over from Keys’ countrywoman Venus Williams on the practice court one day. They never even acknowledged each other on the court. Not even a nod or a hello. It was … strange.

Now, for the results. Defending that Oz Open semi, Keys lost in the fourth round to Melbourne surprise qualifier Shuai Zhang this year. But really, it was all about the leg. Why she even finished the match is anyone’s guess; she was hobbling and distraight. Keys played no warmup events before Oz; she pulled out of Sydney with an elbow injury. Then, the leg.

She teamed up with twinsie Ajla Tomljanovic in doubles.

Keys hasn’t played since then, and skipped the Doha-Dubai double entirely. She had chosen to play Acapulco and Monterrey instead, but has withdrawn from those as well. Her ranking now stands at No. 23.

 

Cara Black (ZIM), 37

She's just the tiniest thing.

She’s just the tiniest thing.

Contrasting with Keys, this one turned pro when Keys was … two years old.

Black looked to be a pretty big deal coming out of the juniors, from a talented family from Zimbabwe that included older brothers, ATP Tour veterans Wayne and Byron.

She was the year-end No. 1 junior in 1997 during a not-overly-deep period; she lost to Justine Henin at the Repentigny tournament in 1997, then won the U.S. Open (Henin lost in the quarters to the more obscure Jackie Trail).

Black also won Junior Wimbledon (beating no one who ever really made it as a pro) and reached the final of the junior French Open (beating Francesca Schiavone in the first round, a 13-year-old Kim Clijsters in the second round, losing to Henin).

She was around a looong time. Her first ITF pro match was in her native Harare just about 24 years ago – as it happened, she lost to future doubles partner Liezel Huber (then Horn) in the first round.

But it turned out she was a bit too much of a shrimp to stand up to all the tall, heavy hitters out there. She’s listed at 5-foot 5 3/4. But that’s Black2probably on skates. Whenever they put in fractions, you know they’re pushing the limit.

Black overcame that by making a tremendous living in doubles (she has more than $7.7 million in earnings), by virtue of actually being able to play real doubles, i.e. serve and volley and poach at the net.

Black did make it to No. 31 in slngles in 1999, so it’s unfair to say her pro singles career was a flop. Far from it. She reached the fourth round of the French Open in 2001. She finished inside the top 60 in the year-end rankings for six straight seasons. But to add to one singles title, Black has won 60 doubles titles , with various partners.

For several productive years, it was the former South African Huber, now an American. They had their moments, such as when Huber threatened to sue her when, after she was off much of a season recuperating from a knee injury, Black teamed up with Rennae Stubbs and things went so well, she decided to keep that going and push Huber to the sidelines for awhile.  That wasn’t too nice. They worked that out for awhile – probably mostly because they made a nice living together.

The pair won 10 tournaments in 2008 (including the Tour championships), but only one Grand Slam (the 2008 U.S. BlackBouchardOpen). And “only” five in 2009.

Black was an Aussie Open short of the mixed doubles Grand Slam, until she won it in 2012 with Leander Paes. She won the 2008 U.S. Open mixed with Paes, 2004 Wimbledon and 2002 French Open with brother Wayne, since retired.

Things with Huber soured again (Huber had some lovely things to say – not). Their last event was Miami in 2010, and after that, Black played with a village of partners.

After 2011 Wimbledon, he took a sabbatical, for obvious reasons (above)

We figured she was done. But no. She came back and was playing great, teaming with Sania Mirza. A year ago, she was ranked No. 4. Seriously.

The pair gave young Canadian Genie Bouchard a lesson in the third round at the Australian Open in 2014 (this was no knock on Bouchard, who has never claimed to be a doubles player). But so many of the points went like this: Black hit a lob return. Black charged the net. Black prepared to hit a high volley. Bouchard turned her back and ducked. Bouchard saw her life flash before her eyes. Black put it into the open court.

It was brilliant stuff – if you’re any kind of a tennis purist.

Black-Zheng

The partnership with Mirza ended – Black’s doing (we suspect, but don’t know for sure, that she was thinking of expanding her family and didn’t want to commit for a full season).

She teamed up with Saisai Zheng at the Australian Open a year ago, and they lost in the first round to Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski and partner Alicja Rosolska of Poland. They didn’t look very good together, to be honest. But there may have been physical issues. In their first tournament in Hobart, they retired in the first round after losing the first three games.

Mirza, of course, has gone on to great things with Martina Hingis.

Black went silent until she played the grass-court season with old pal Lisa Raymond. They did well – reaching the quarterfinals at the W and losing 8-6 in the third to No. 2 seeds Makarova and Vesnina. That was it (Raymond also was done after the season).

We thought we saw her around the Australian Open this year, randomly.

Amir Hadad (ISR), 38

Picture19 7 2 Tennis birthdays Feb. 17, 2012This dude is one of Open Court’s underground favorites.

If you looked at this guy, there’s no way you’d guess “tennis player” if someone asked you what he did for a living. He’s listed on the ATP Tour website as being six feet, 195 (cough) pounds.

Which just goes to show you they come in all shapes in sizes. He has a twin brother named, we kid you not, Hemi.

Hadad did get to No. 180 in singles and No. 87 in doubles in 2003.  He played Davis Cup as far back as 1998.

He played a regular doubles schedule on the Challenger circuit after Israel met Sweden in the Davis Cup in March, 2010. And then he called it a day.

Here’s a post we made during an Israel – Sweden Davis Cup tie in 2010.

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