Tennis Birthdays – Nov. 12, 2015

Players from around the planet celebrate.

Jakob Hlasek (SUI), 51

Hlasek was an original-generation hottie, an almost impossibly handsome man (in that Don Draper kind of way) and a very, very good tennis player – both in singles and doubles.

These two probably don't have dinner together too much.

These two probably don’t have dinner together too much.

Born in Prague, Hlasek and family moved to Switzerland when he was three, and he played hockey early on. Not that it’s why he switched to tennis, but it would have been a darn shame to fill that face with zippers and broken bones.

He reached career highs of No. 7 in singles and No. 4 in doubles. He won five singles titles and 20 in doubles (at least one a year from 1985 to 1995 except for 1993). That included the Key Biscayne (Miami) – Indian Wells doubles in 1989, with different partners and the world doubles championships in 1990 with Frenchman Guy Forget. He and countryman Marc Rosset won the 1992 French Open doubles crown.

Hlasek’s Davis Cup efforts were another big part of his career. He played 79 rubbers for Switzerland, 54 of them in singles, between 1982 and 1996.

The most notable one was the final in 1992 against the U.S., played in Texas (the last time Switzerland made the final, until this year). He and Rosset faced John McEnroe and Pete Sampras in doubles that year, losing in five sets after winning the first two in tiebreaks. With Agassi and Courier playing singles, you won’t find a bigger all-star squad than that.

It was pretty awesome.

Later, Hlasek became the captain of the Davis Cup team. That didn’t go quite so well. Not only did former doubles partner Marc Rosset have issues playing for him but so, apparently, did team stud Roger Federer. This is a good summary of all that, and gives some insight into one of the reasons Federer’s Davis Cup attendance was so spotty earlier in his career.

Paul McNamee (AUS), 61

McNamee came from a talented generation of Aussies, the one that essentially followed the Laver/Rosewall/Emerson era. That’s a pretty tough act to follow.

Paul McNamee

The man’s done everything in tennis. A great singles and doubles player, a member of the ATP board as a player, the tournament director of the Australian Open from 1999 to 2006, the brains behind the fun Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth every January and, most recently, the coach of Su-Wei Hsieh, who became the No. 1 doubles player in the world, and Anett Kontaveit.

McNamee got to No. 24 in singles, with two titles (in a tough era) and was ranked No. 1 in doubles, with 24 titles. His most successful partnership was with countryman Peter McNamara. The two won two Australian and two Wimbledon titles, back in the days when they were all played on grass.

Notably during his career was that right in the middle of it, in his mid-20s, McNamee took six months off and developed a two-handed backhand, because his one-hander was essentially a defensive shot. He wanted to take it to another level and was willing to take one step back, to take two steps forward. That just wouldn’t happen today.He wrote a fun book about his life in tennis, if you’re looking for reading material.

Tomasz Bednarek (POL), 34

Thomasz BednarekA doubles specialist from Poland, Bednarek is currently ranked No. 217, down from a career high of No. 44 reached last April and No. 72 a year ago.

He and countryman Jerzy Janowicz reached the quarter-finals of the doubles together at the French Open in 2013.

Bednarek probably suffers for not having a regular partner, but he gets around. Last season alone, he played with Lukas Dlouhy, Ivo Karlovic, Nicholas Monroe, Mikhail Elgin, Henri Kontinen, countryman Mateusz Kowalczyk, Canadian Adil Shamasdin, Mate Pavic, Marin Draganja, Florin Mergea, Johan Brunstrom, Benoit Paire, Teymuraz Gabashvili, Igor Zelenay, Andre Sa and Rameez Junaid.

If it seems like a glamorous life, imagine having to try to coordinate that from week to week.

Zi Yan (CHN), 31

Zi YanShe’s younger than countrywoman and contemporary Li Na, but her career ended before Li’s did.

She represented China in two Olympics (2004 and 2008) and it seemed she might be the breakthrough player for that country. But it never happened. Zi won one singles tournament (Guangzhou in 2005), but did have great success on the doubles court, with 17 career titles (and 16 more on the ITF circuit).

Her career bests were No. 40 in singles and No. 4 in doubles. Her last match was in Aug. 2013.

Zi and Zheng Jie won the Australian Open and Wimbledon titles in 2006, and they won the bronze at the Olympics in Beijing.

She has a daughter, Iza, who turns four in January, and was off the tour from the middle of 2011 until the fall of 2012.




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