Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 28, 2016

Thiry-somethings celebrate.

Jelena Jankovic (SRB), 31

Yes, she’s been around awhile, but this 30-something thing kind of crept up on all of us.

A few years ago, you wondered where she’d be now, as her career was sort of at a crossroads after reaching No. 1 in the world.

But she pulled it together. By 2014, Jankovic was back in the top 10 and while she was still not a threat to pull off a major, she was back to doing what she does: winning matches and getting to the latter stages many weeks.

And, by coming home, it seems she stabilized her coaching situation. Because she’s gone through a few.

Jankovic was with Ricardo Sanchez for a long time, through her best years. That split up; she had him back briefly in 2010, and then he (just as) briefly went to the Caroline Wozniacki camp to start the season.

Jankovic then got involved with a Las-Vegas based “wellness organization”, and hooked up with a coach who was a standout for UNLV in his youth, but didn’t have much in the way of top credentials. That didn’t last long.

She split with her management company (and briefly took on a Las-Vegas-based agent. Briefly). She split with her racquet company although she was still playing with their sticks. She split with Anta, which had signed her with big fanfare three years ago and now wears Fila, which has yet to clothe her as well as Anta did although they have had their moments.

Jan16-Jelena Jankovic andn Bethanie Mattek-Sands

Notably, mama Snezana, who’s actually a riot, is staying home these days. But there’s still a piece of home with her; brother Marko is now coaching her. And it seems to be working fairly well even though she yaps at him just as much as she has any other coach.

Jankovic did what Ana Ivanovic did before her and Simona Halep did after her. She went through that phase where the thinking was that having a big-name coach wasn’t the be-all and end-all because learning in another language, no matter how well you might speak it, is a challenge. There was a comfort level there, we can even say from own experience, that makes things sink in just that little much better.

But eventually the trend moves on; Ivanovic went back to Nigel Sears. Halep realized that, well, maybe home cooking wasn’t all it was cracked up to be so she’s now working with Darren Cahill. And Jankovic – well, her brother is still around. He doesn’t seem to be the only face, but he’s there, nonetheless, pulling the strings, so to speak.

On court, the sniffles Jankovic has had since 2008 persist, as does the endearingly croaky voice.

In the last year, Jankovic struggled with various injuries. Open Court spoke to her at length in Australia about this, and about how she feels that’s the biggest reason her ranking dropped. She just wasn’t healthy most of the year. That said, she still went to Indian Wells a year ago, not having played in a month, because she loves the tournament. And she got to the final. It was the first big-time tournament of her career, way back in the day when she was the No. 1 junior in the world at age 16.

When she returns next month, it will be her 15th appearance.

 

Ivo Karlovic (CRO), 37

The 6-foot-10 Croat, nearly seven years ago, rolled to a career-high No. 14 in the ATP Tour rankings – a relatively late rankings “growth spurt” made possible by a commitment to shoring up the other parts of his game that didn’t involve his serve.

IvoKarlovic

It was pretty impressive, and he maintained it pretty well. But who’d have guessed that he’d still be around? He’s the oldest guy in the top 100 now. And in recent years, you could argue that he was playing even better tennis.

Karlovic posted some pretty good results in 2015. He began by upsetting Novak Djokovic in Doha, and then won Delray Beach. He had his best results on grass, of course, losing to Federer in Halle and Andy Murray at Wimbledon before reaching the Newport final. He even defeated a (admittedly sub-par) Milos Raonic at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.

This season has been a struggle. He’s clearly injured, and not playing much. He lost in the first round to Canadian Vasek Pospisil in Brisbane, tried it for a couple of sets against Federico Delbonis at the Australian Open before retiring, and tried to play in Delray (near his South Florida home) to defend his title before losing to John-Patrick Smith in the first round.

He tried again in Acapulco, retiring in the second set v. Aljaz Bedene.

Meanwhile, Twitter has allowed tennis fans to get to know a man who had been fairly in the shadows for years, partly as the result of a stuttering issue that made it a challenge for him. It turned out to be the perfect vehicle for Karlovic to show off his sometimes crude, usually self-deprecating, but often hilarious sense of humour. When you can be funny in a language not your own, you’re pretty funny although we hope that Serena Williams is on the jokes he always makes at her expense. Yes, he’s had his offensive moments. But he’s hardly alone in the Twitterverse on that store.

Karlovic-Isner_new

We’ll always remember when he and John Isner teamed up in Australia to play doubles together. Great PR idea, right? Poor execution. They had zero chemistry and lost to a couple of little Argentinian dirtballers, Calleri and Brzezicki.

Karlovic raised some eyes in the Davis Cup in 2009, when he battled Radek Stepanek in a five-hour, 59-minute epic to open their World Group semi that ended  6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-7, 16-14. He set an aces record and the 82 total games tied the Davis Cup record since the tiebreak was introduced in 1989.

Karlovic has come back from 2010 Achilles surgery that, for a guy his age, could easily have been the kiss of death.

He also has become a daddy, as wife Alsi (a stunning woman from Jamaica) gave him daughter Jada Valentina in Sept. 2011.

Mariano Zabaleta (ARG), 38

 40166475 zabaleta270 Tennis birthdays Feb. 28, 2010

Zabaleta is from Tandil, which has spawned some decent tennis players (including Juan Martin del Potro).

A year older than Karlovic, it tells you something about Karlovic’s longevity that Zabaleta has been retired for six years already. Zabaleta had a lot of knee issues late in his career.

And it says something about contemporary Tommy Haas, whom Zabaleta beat in the final of the Orange Bowl nearly 20 years ago, that Haas is also still around, albeig tenuously as he tries one more comeback.

Zabaleta was a great junior who became a good clay-court pro, reaching a career high of No. 21 in 2000 and won three titles, all outdoors on clay (Bastad, Sweden, he got twice; the third was Bogota).

He had a pretty mechanical, complicated serve.

Zabaleta earned three ATP Tour titles and won over $3 million in his career. He’s the vice-captain to Martin Jaite for the Argentine Davis Cup team, which is under a little bit of scrutiny at the moment with the country’s top player, Zabaleta’s homie del Potro, not playing.

Florent Serra (FRA), 35

SerraSerra reached a career high of No. 36 in 2006. He has always been a worthy performer, but for most of his career a borderline guy who was in and out of the top 100.

His best moments and memories tend to be the matches that got away – the close calls against better players. One was in the first round of the 2004 French Open, when he was 200th in the world and out of the qualifying, and lost 9-7 in the fifth set to American Vince Spadea (then ranked No. 28) after having had NINE match points. He also pushed Roger Federer to a pair of tiebreaks in Miami in 2010, and

 

He’s one of those numerous accomplished French players who fill out the draw and always compete, but aren’t really a factor (Marc Gicquel is another of those types that immediately comes to mind).

Funnily enough, his one career ATP Tour doubles title came with Gicquel, in Gstaad in 2007.

He’s done now, not having played a match since last June, although his singles ranking stands at 1173. He played his last real match in the French Interclubs last December, surrounded by a pretty illustrious cast on the Court: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Sergiy Stakhovsky, although he didn’t rule out playing some national French events going forward.

His best moments and memories tend to be the matches that got away – the close calls against better players. One was in the first round of the 2004 French Open, when he was 200th in the world and out of the qualifying, and lost 9-7 in the fifth set to American Vince Spadea (then ranked No. 28) after having had NINE match points. He also pushed Roger Federer to a pair of tiebreaks in Miami in 2010, and the five match points he had against Novak Djokovic in Halle in 2009 before going down to defeat.

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3 thoughts on “Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 28, 2016

  1. I wonder what it is about air con that sets some people off – I too know someone who starts sneezing the second it’s turned on.
    I also know someone who sneezes whenever they are in stressful situations – like a tic.

    Whatever it is, she has my sympathies…

    • It’s not necessarily the air con per se. But I know, for example, that the hotel I stay at at the U.S. Open turns it down to freezer levels. And it’s hot/humid outside. Every year it kills me and I NEVER get sick. Lots of the really good hotels do this and it’s neither healthy nor economical.

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