Tennis Birthdays: Feb. 5, 2016

19 and counting …

Françoise Abanda (CAN), 19

It seems only yesterday that Montreal’s Françoise Abanda was a precocious 14-year-old, one of those premium prospects any country would give its program to have.

At 14, she was at No. 20 in the junior rankings, getting to the final of the big Repentigny event that serves as a warmup for the U.S. Open and defeating such players as Ashleigh Barty, the biggest junior hotshot at the time. She lost to fellow Montrealer Genie Bouchard, already 17 and far more experienced, 7-5 in the third set of that final.

Just a baby of 14. Awwwwww...

Just a baby of 14. Awwwwww…

But her right shoulder was already nagging. She played a couple of matches, inexplicably, in the Junior Fed Cup in Mexico that September (serving underhand, if you can believe that), and then pretty much didn’t play until April, 2012. She didn’t have surgery, but spent most of that time strengthening the shoulder so there wouldn’t be a re-occurrence.

When she came back, she made the semis at junior Wimbledon and but for some inexperience and nerves, there might have been two Canadians in the final that Bouchard won in 2012.

Abanda lost in three sets to Elina Svitolina, already an experienced pro even at that age. She then won the Repentigny title, and played a TON of tennis before losing early at the Eddie Herr event in Florida in December. In April of 2013, she was the No. 4-ranked junior in the world.

Again, except for one match, she didn’t play for another nine months.

The shoulder cost her a lot of time in the juniors, and she closed the books on junior competition a little too early, probably. She surely could have picked off a junior major if her mind were on it. But she was ready to get on with a pro career.

Hampered by age restrictions two years ago, Abanda can go full bore now. But ranked No. 334, she is not progressing as quickly as most would have hoped, even if the shoulder issues seem to be behind her. The game, unfortunately, hasn’t seem to evolve. The coaching situation has been a challenge; she now works with Bruno Echagaray, who once worked with Stéphanie Dubois.

She has just a 2-2 record so far in 2016, but will try to recreate some Fed Cup magic this weekend in Quebec City. Last year, Abanda upset the No. 34-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu in a tie against Romania, showing that on a day she can raise her game, she’s competitive with anyone in the world.

Jim Pugh (USA), 52

A former No. 1 doubles player (and top-50 singles player), Pugh won two Australian Open crowns with fellow American Rick Leach in 1988 and 1989, and reached the finals in doubles in all the other Grand Slams. He also won five mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.

You might remember Pugh as the guy who hit two-handed from both sides, rare on the men’s tour. He was also 6-0 in doubles in Davis Cup play.

He really seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

Tarik Benhabiles (FRA), 51

An Algerian-born player re-established in Florida who reached No. 22 in the rankings in 1987, Benhabiles is best known as the first and long-time coach of Andy Roddick. He brought Roddick to the top 10, then got dumped for Brad Gilbert. Then a few months later, Roddick won the U.S. Open and reached the No. 1 ranking.


Benhabiles won the junior French Open in 1981, but that didn’t translate into a superstar career. Still, No. 22 is a whole lot better than a lot of the coaches out there, and a good effort for a little guy (listed at 5-9 and 142 pounds).

He coached French player Nicolas Escudé before Roddick, Richard Gasquet after Roddick (Gasquet has had a few), and also (briefly) Tatiana Golovin and Benjamin Becker. Oh, and Gaël Monfils (but he’s had a few, too). He has been working with Vania King and has given Malek Jaziri a helping hand, in recent years.


He’s the director of “L’Académie de Tennis”  in Boynton Beach, Fla. (we’re guessing the Yanks are impressed by the fancy-schmancy French name).

(Pics from Benhabiles’ website)

Andreas Beck (GER), 30

A lefty currently ranked No. 389 in singles (he was No. 110 just a year ago), Beck is a whole lot bigger than he looks on TV – 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds.

You can get to a best career rankings of No. 33, even with a career ATP Tour record of 41-64 in singles. Beck played just three matches at the ATP Tour level in 2014, going 0-3. In 2015, he was 0-1 and didn’t play any tennis at all after losing in the first round of qualifying at the US Open.

So far in 2016, Beck has played two Futures in Germany, getting to the final of the first and the semis in the second, never facing a player in the top 400. Baby steps.


Despite his size, Beck really is a clay-court guy, choosing that surface whenever he can.

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