Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 24, 2016

Officially a “senior”, the new retiree begins a new phase in his tennis life.

Lleyton Hewitt (AUS), 35

The Aussie, a soon-to-be Hall of Famer, appropriately retired at his home Slam last month – his 20th Australian Open.

Needless to say, much was made about it. And despite barely having played for months, Hewitt acquitted himself very well.

He defeated countryman James Duckworth, ranked No. 129, in straight sets on Rod Laver Arena in the first round, an occasion that really was too much for the poor kid. He then showed some flashes before going down as expected in straight sets to David Ferrer. He also reached the third round in doubles with Sam Groth, losing to Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock.

Cruz Hewitt's not a tennis chip off the old block yet, so Hewitt will have to mentor his Davis Cup kids for awhile.

Cruz Hewitt’s not a tennis chip off the old block yet, so Hewitt will have to mentor his Davis Cup kids for awhile.

On the playing and determination side, Ferrer is a disciple of Hewitt’s even though he’s barely younger than he is – a byproduct of Hewitt being so good, so young.

What was surprising to hear from some of the players, including Ferrer and Djokovic and Nadal, was what a huge influence he was on their tennis careers.

Perhaps too often dismissed as a “timing” No. 1 – he slid in neatly between the Becker-Edberg and Sampras-Agassi eras, and the rise of Roger Federer – he was a young prodigy who squeezed out every ounce of what he had and maximized. Win or lose, rain or shine, the guy gave everything he had, every single match.

To have come back and played some more after hip surgery, and foot surgery, and whatever-else surgery, determined to go out on his terms, speaks volumes about the type of competitor he was.

On the personal front, he eventually morphed from a bratty punk to somewhat of an elder statesman. Perhaps never truly loved or quite trusted by many Aussie tennis fans, he was able eventually to get it to a level of high respect while really not changing his personality all that much. Perhaps they just caught up to him or, because he played such a long time, were able to finally discern the finer qualities hidden underneath the rather prickly exterior. Having a wife and three kids probably polished a few of his rougher edges, as well.

His totals: 30 singles titles (including two majors). Three doubles titles, including the 2000 US Open title with Max Mirnyi as well as the Newport title on grass, with Chris Guccione, less than two years ago. He was No. 1 without a break from Nov. 2001 to April, 2003.

It is Tennis Australia’s hope now that, as the new Davis Cup captain, “Rusty” can pass along some of that youthful experience to the rising Aussies who’ve gotten a lot of negative media attention – we’re talking about you, Bernard and you, Nick – while somehow transferring by osmosis some of his desire and combativeness.

One thing was always certain about Hewitt – he loved playing for his country. It appears the next generation feels that way, too. And there’s no doubt that his example paved the way for that. The youngsters don’t pay terribly much attention to the legendary Aussies – probably just a bunch of old farts to them – but Hewitt was the standard as they came up through the ranks. His example resonates.

He’ll get his first shot (with Kyrgios, Tomic, Groth and Peers) against the U.S. (Isner, Sock, Bryan and Bryan) in just over a week, on grass in Melbourne.

 

Klara Koukalova (CZE), 34

Klara Koukalova-3_new

One of the better names in tennis went and ruined it all by getting married and becoming Klara Zakopalova.

Unfortunately for her, the marriage didn’t work out and she got divorced after nearly eight years wed. So she’s Koukalova again.

One of the Czech drama sisters (along with Barbora Strycova – Zahlavova – Strycova), Koukalova reached her career best No. 20 in singles relatively late in her career, at age 31. She has three singles and four doubles titles on her WTA Tour resumé. Her first doubles title came in Quebec City all the way back in 2001.

Per her WTA Tour bio, her dad is a taxi driver and her mom is a bartender at a golf resort. Probably the only such combination on Tour.

This is Mama Koukalova a couple of years ago.

Mama Zakopalova-3_new

She’s currently ranked No. 113.

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