Tennis Birthdays: March 1, 2016

A tall (6-foot-8), red-headed, left-handed Belgian celebrates.

Dick Norman (BEL), 45

Norman played a long, long time, officially retiring at age 42 in June, 2013 at the grass-court event in s’Hertogenbosch although he played a few more tournaments after that. The last one was a clay-court Futures in Belgium in late August 2013, where he partnered up with the astonishingly named Belgian James Junior Storme.

He reached his career high of No. 10 in doubles in April, 2010.

Norman upset Stefan Edberg in 1995 at Wimbledon, in the second  Tennis birthdays March 1, 2011round. It’s hard to imagine returning that serve, on the grass they had back then, so it’s surprising he didn’t do better there.

Wow, that was a long time ago.

Six years ago, Norman was still in the top 300 in singles – rare for a doubles specialist, and a guy his age. His last singles match was almost exactly six years ago, in the qualifying at Indian Wells.

Norman and South African Wesley Moodie got to the final of the French Open doubles in 2009, among other good results. But Moodie (who has a pattern of doing this) dumped him at the end of that season. They also made the Wimbledon semis in 2009, winning their third-round match 14-12 in the fifth and upsetting the top team of Bhupathi and Knowles in five sets in the quarters.

They got back together in April of 2010 and actually made it to the year-end championships together.

Norman showed up at the revived but short-lived WTA Tour event in Antwerp last year, playing a Belgian legends’ match with Clijsters, Appelmans and Xavier Malisse.

José Higueras (ESP), 63

As a player, Higueras was a premium dirt-baller, reaching a career high of No. 6 in 1983 and winning 16 ATP Tour titles. That career high came at age 30, not unusual now but much more so back in his time. It went quickly after that; less than three years later, he was playing his last singles match – a loss to Boris Becker at what is now the Indian Wells event, at age 33 in 1986.

Federer-Higueras_new

All but one of his titles came on clay (and Har-Tru in the U.S.); his one hard-court title came at that Indian Wells event (then at La Quinta) in 1983. He reached the French Open semis in 1982 and 1983.

After that, Higueras became renowned as a coach. He was on board when Michael Chang won the French Open in 1989, and when Jim Courier won it in 1991 and 1992. Among his other students: Todd Martin, Sergi Bruguera, Carlos Moyá, Pete Sampras,Dmitry Tursunov, Guillermo Coria, Robby Ginepri, Shahar Pe’er and … Roger Federer, with whom he spent the 2008 clay-court season.

These days, he’s a bigshot with the USTA, the relentless clay baseliner charged with overseeing the next crop of American talent. He took over in 2009; seven years later, it seems the crop of talented boys has now come in.  He still lives in the Palm Springs area; he married the daughter of the burg’s four-term mayor years ago. It’s a long, long way from his humble beginning on a stone farm that didn’t even have electricity; he picked up the game when he got a job as a ballboy at a posh tennis club in Barcelona as a kid. You’d have to think he’s pretty familiar with the term “underdog.”

Here’s a great piece about him from the always excellent Bonnie Ford of ESPN.

 

Jan Kodes (CZE), 70

Kodes reached a ranking of No. 5 in the early days of the computer rankings, back in 1973, and won eight titles.

KodesbookOf those eight, three were Grand Slams, an incredible ratio. They were the 1971 and 1972 French Opens, no surprise, and the 1973 Wimbledon (a major surprise).

Kodes stepped in when 13 of the top 16 players didn’t show up that year. Believe it or not, there once were labour issues in tennis.

He also made the U.S. Open finals (on grass back then) in both 1971 and 1973. He never went Down Under to Australia.

He also won 17 doubles titles, and made 24 other finals.

Kodes is the author of a long, comprehensive autobiography that traces his journey from Communist Czechoslovakia to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Ryler De Heart (USA), 32

The American lefty got to No. 174 in singles, and No. 120 in doubles and played just five total matches at the ATP Tour level. But one of them was BIG.

Ryler De Heart_new

His first qualification at the Tour level came in 2008 at the US Open, where he then proceeded to upset Olivier Rochus of Belgium in five sets in the first round. That set him up for a date with … Rafael Nadal, then No. 1 in the world, on Arthur Ashe Stadium. He lost in straight sets, but got better with each one (6-1, 6-2, 6-4) and had a whole lot of support during his bucket-list moment.

De Heart played college tennis at the University of Illinois-Champaign, where he graduated with a degree in that the ATP Tour site calls “psych pre-med”. He and teammates Amer Delic and Rajeev Ram (who is playing his best tennis right now) won the 2003 NCAA championship together.

DeHeart lost in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open in 2011, played a Challenger in his native Hawaii after that, and one more singles match a few years later. He has played once a year since then, mostly at a Futures event in Birmingham, Alabama (there’s no mention of these matches on the ATP site, though; it’s on the ITF website). Last November, he got to the fourth and final round of qualifying in singles there without dropping a set, before losing in the last round. Not sure what that says about the level of play in the qualifying of these $10,000 Futures that he could do that, but there you have it.

He’s an assistant coach with the University of Alabama Crimson Tide men’s team.

Konstantin Kravchuk (RUS), 30

As he turns the big 3-0, the 6-foot-3 Russian is right about at his career high, reached a week ago (No. 125) after a semi-final final effort at the Wroclaw Open in Poland.

Konstantin Kravchuk

He’s been a pro since 2004, so that’s a long, patient struggle.

 

Enzo Couacaud (FRA), 21

Born in Mauritius, Couacoud got to No. 17 in the ITF junior rankings in the middle of 2013 and had some good results on grass – he reached the semis at the Roehampton warmup event, beating Elias Ymer and Noah Rubin before falling to Nick Kyrgios. In doubles, he reached the Wimbledon junior final with Stefano Napolitano, losing to … Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Enzo Couacoud_new

The previous year, he was one of Canadian Filip Peliwo’s victims on Peliwo’s way to the junior Wimbledon title.

Shortly after that effort in 2013, he left the juniors behind. As a pro, his best was a high of No. 206, exactly two years ago. At the moment, he’s ranked No. 587 and has played only a few Futures so far this season. Last summer, he reached the final round of qualifying at Wimbledon, losing in four sets to John Millman of Australia and beating Marco Chiudinelli in the second round.

Enzo Couacoud

He’s a classic example of money not buying everything; reportedly his father is loaded – Gulbis dad loaded. But it hasn’t translated into a viable pro career, at least not yet. His ATP Tour bio pic features a bowtie, though; so that’s a winning thing.

(Book image from Amazon.com; Norman photos from the Open Court gallery)

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