Tennis Birthdays – Jan. 1, 2016

An illustrious Argentine, a comebacker from Uruguay and an obscure Pole celebrate on the first day of the year.

David Nalbandian (ARG), 34

The latter part of the talented Argentine’s career seemed to be one injury comeback after another.

And, finally, with a series of exhibitions in Argentina just over two years ago, Nalbandian finally called it a career. It’s easy to forget that he’s five months younger than Roger Federer.

DavidNalbandian

A summary of the last few years:

End of 2008: Argentina lost the Davis Cup final to a Nadal-less Spain, and he and longtime coach Martin Jaite split.

2009: After struggling with a hip injury for the first four months, Nalbandian had surgery in mid-May and missed the rest of the season. The surgeon, Dr. Marc Philippon, a Quebecer basedin Colorado who also operated on Milos Raonic, went to Europe to perform the operation, Nalbandian told Open Court a few years ago.

DavidNalbandian-WimbFebruary, 2010: Nalbandian dealt with other injuries – an adductor, a hamstring – as he made his comeback.

2011: He did a great job coming back, and entered the Australian Open ranked No. 27 and seeded. A year later, he had dropped to No. 130, and dropped even further than that (No. 161).

Nalbandian could be a prickly sort (although my dealings with him have always been excellent). But the thing I’ll remember most about his career is his devotion to Davis Cup.

With Juan Martin del Potro out in 2010 because of his wrist, Nalbandian stepped up several times, even though he was a long way from 100 percent.

He even flew all the way to Sweden at the last minute, and won a decisive fifth rubber. After losing a couple of months because of the hamstring, he went to Moscow and beat both Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny to lead Argentina to the semifinals.

Since his retirement, he has kept a fairly low profile, with some charity efforts and settling into his role as a new daddy.

Nalbandian was at that Necker Island thing attended by Canadians Genie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil last year, and again this year – at least, he popped up in a few pics – but he flew under the radar there as well.

Grzegorz Panfil (POL), 28

It’s unlikely you had heard of this fairly obscure Polish player until two years ago, when he ditched the Chennai qualifying to fly to Perth, Australia as a last-minute replacement for countryman Jerzy Janowicz at Hopman Cup.

PanfilcareerweekHe defeated two good players – Andreas Seppi of Italy and Milos Raonic of Canada, both admittedly under the weather – and looked like he’s having THE best time of his life.

And understandably so.

At the time, the former junior Oz Open doubles champion was ranked No. 288 in singles, and couldn’t even get into the Australian Open qualifying. It was only nine spots off a career best reached more than four years ago, so it didn’t appear he was a player on the rise.

How did the rest of his season go? He ended up getting into the Oz Open qualies as an alternate, but lost in the first round in three sets. He then hit the Challenger scene in Europe and reached a career high of No. 238 in singles in the middle of the 2015 season.

At the moment, though, he’s ranked No. 417. But he’ll always have Perth.

Pablo Cuevas (URU), 30

Cuevas isn’t exactly a household name. But he gained attention in 2008 when he and pickup partner Luis Horna of Peru not only got to the French Open doubles final, they won it – beating Canadian Daniel Nestor and partner Nenad Zimonjic in the final.

He got himself into the top 50 in singles on the strength of some great play on clay. And he got to No. 14 in the doubles rankings in April, 2009.

PabloCuevas

But a knee injury hit him hard. He missed five months in 2011 before finally having surgery in October of that year.

He didn’t play at all in 2012; in 2013, he played just four tournaments in the first nine months of the season.

Cuevas came back to the French Open in 2013 with another South American partner, Horacio Zeballos, and nearly pulled off another major surprise – reaching the semifinals in the dubs before losing to Llodra and Mahut.

He began 2015 ranked a career-best No. 30 in singles, a great comeback story, and reached a career high in singles last March, achingly close to the top 20 at No. 21 shortly after winning the Brazil Open in February. It was the third title of his career, after winning Umag and Bastad in 2014.

After spending the entire season at the top ATP level, Cuevas closed off 2015 playing a $50,000 Challenger in his home country, losing in the semifinals.

(Open Court pics)

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