Tennis Birthdays: Jan. 4, 2016

An accomplished Frenchman, and a Grand Slam-winning doubles player celebrate.

Guy Forget (FRA), 51

The longtime captain of the French Davis Cup team was an outstanding player in his day, reaching No. 4 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. The lefty won 11 singles titles, including two Masters Series events, and reached the final of eight others in singles.

And he’s a very snappy dresser – with an absolute way with a scarf.

GuyForget

To that, he added 28 doubles titles, including the now-defunct world doubles championship in 1990. And he was the key part of the victorious 1991 Davis Cup team for France.

Forget ceded his Davis Cup spot to Arnaud Clément (who didn’t last long before Forget’s former Davis Cup teammate Yannick Noah took over from him), and took over as tournament director at the Masters event in Bercy. Last we checked in, he also had an ambassador’s role with the French Open.

Dominik Hrbaty (SVK), 38

Hrbaty had a good career until he struggled with injury in 2008; he officially retired at the end of 2009 after reaching a career high of No. 12 in singles (Oct. 2004). He also made the top 15 in doubles.

His last match – or so we thought – came at home in Slovakia, where he lost to Igor Kunitsyn in a third-set tiebreak in the quarterfinals of a Challenger event in 2010.

Hrbaty said goodbye at an offseason exhibition at home at the end of 2010 featuring countrywoman Dominika Cibulkova, Thomas Muster and the immortal Anna Kournikova (plus some on-court cheerleaders – it was that kind of affair).

Ultimately, though, he may end up being best known for his fashion risks. The pink shirt with the cutouts on the back he wore at the 2005 U.S. Open exposed him to mass ridicule, but gave his sponsor a whole lot of ink.

“The shirt itself is actually nice. You don’t sweat as much,” he said at the time, with a straight face (but with his fingers crossed behind his back, and probably his toes, too. And his eyes crossed).

Hrbaty has done some television commentary in English (in Auckland, among other places).

 

 

But it turns out that he wasn’t quite done playing.

Two years ago, Hrbaty still had a singles ranking (a lofty No. 1486) after playing a couple of Futures event in Thailand and Guam in the spring of 2013, during which he did defeat the immortal Kittipong Wachiramanowong (we call him”Kitty”).

He also played five doubles events in Futures in five different countries in 2013: Cambodia, Guam, Israel, Turkey and Thailand. He played one last one in May, 2014. And we have to give him more credit – this time for choosing partners with awesome names. His penultimate partner was a man named Kenny Bun. And his last partner was … Tuna Altuna.

Altuna is a Turk. And that apparently is his real name.

For playing that tourney with the ‘Tuna (they lost in the second round), Hrbaty earned $64.

Great way to see parts of the world you might have missed – as long as you don’t need the money.

Su-Wei Hsieh (TPE), 30

She’s not necessarily a remarkable player by any standard. But the amazing thing about this lady is how hard she hits the ball. She’s tiny; earlier in her 20s, there was no way she even weighed 100 pounds (even though she was listed at 5-7 and 126 pounds – and still is). She was scary-small, although she has filled out, slightly, since then.

Still, despite hitting two-handed off both sides, Hsieh reached No. 78 in the world in singles back in 2008. After a few years as basically a doubles specialist, Hsieh rededicated herself to singles with the help of Aussie coach Paul McNamee and by February of 2013, she was No. 23 in the world. She won WTA titles in Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou in 2012. She couldn’t keep up that level; she’s currently at No. 93.

Hsieh_new

And it wasn’t as though she abandoned doubles; far from it.

Hsieh and partner Shuai Peng won five titles in 2013. And they weren’t just any titles: they included Wimbledon, and the year-end championships, and Premier events in Rome and Cincinnati. So she had all surfaces covered. They definitely weren’t a textbook pair, both two-handed on both sides. But they were effective.

In May, 2014, Hsieh became the No. 1-ranked doubles player in the world. But by the end of the season, she and Peng split up. It didn’t seem particularly amicable, either. Who knows. She played with India’s Sania Mirza early in 2015, but it seemed that wasn’t working at all, which led to Mirza’s high-profile and very successful partnership with Martina Hingis by Indian Wells.

Hingis had dumped Flavia Pennetta, and Hsieh teamed up with Pennetta for a few events through Wimbledon (where they reached the quarters together)

She’s is currently down to No. 26 in the doubles rankings.

In all, Hsieh has two WTA and 26 ITF singles titles. Added to that are 17 WTA and 20 ITF doubles titles. That’s quite a hardware haul, and she’ll shortly go over the $4 million mark in career earnings.

It just goes to show you that tennis players come in all shapes and sizes, and that you should never give up.

Julie Ditty (USA), 37

Ditty was known as the queen of the Challengers. But the left-handed American wasn’t ever really able to break through at the top level of the WTA Tour.

Julie Ditty

She was a good doubles player, topping out out at No. 66 in Aug. 2009. Her best in singles was No. 89 in 2008, when she finally broke into the top 100 (however briefly) after a good run at the Bell Challenge in Quebec City as she was pushing 30.

Ditty handled things well; she didn’t turn pro until she was nearly 23 years old, after earning a degree in early childhood education from Vanderbilt University while playing top-level college tennis.

Ditty’s last match was a first-round loss to countrywoman Shelby Rogers in Raleigh in May 2011. She and Carly Gullickson also lost in the first round of doubles, and she officially retired in June after winning 39 ITF titles (30 of them in doubles).

Here’s what she said.

“I feel really good about what I accomplished. I don’t think about it like I’ve done this or that. The experiences are more valuable to me than the records, or wins and losses. The memories, seeing the world and the friendships you make, those are the main things.

“I could go to any city in the world and find somebody I played tennis with. Tennis is such a small world when you meet people. It’s been an awesome experience.”

Ditty was the director of tennis at the Bellefonte Country Club in Ashland, Kentucky, which is her hometown. After a year, she got restless and moved around some, ending up at the Louisville Tennis Club. She has played some – competing in the USTA team leagues in 2014 (nice ringer, Kentucky) and also in the US Open wild-card playoff that year, where she lost to x.

(Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

 

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