Tennis Birthdays – Nov. 15, 2015

Rarely are big names in tennis born this late in the year. But there are a few notables today.

Fernando Verdasco (ESP), 32

Verdasco is one of those objects of lust on the ATP Tour, with his tall, swarthy good looks and propensity for removing his shirt.

He’s also a really good tennis player, although his career isn’t at the heights it was a few years ago.

FernandoVerdascoVerdasco, who has been in the top 10 (No. 7 and No. 8 respectively) in both disciplines, is currently at No. 49 in singles and No. 97 in doubles. He ended last season at No. 32 in singles.

He brought on another very good former Tour player as a coach last year, to add to the Edberg-Chang-Becker group in the Swede Thomas Enqvist. But results seemed indifferent and that whole thing seemed to have petered out quickly.

Verdasco’s singles high of No. 7 came in 2009. After that, he spent a few years under the tutelage of former Andre Agassi physical trainer Gil Reyes in Las Vegas. He got huge, but those extra muscles didn’t seem to do his tennis game much good (as Agassi found out during his career but hey, what does he know?)

Two years ago, he won just one title with doubles partner David Marrero, but a consistent season put them in the World Tour Finals – and they won it. At this point, that remains the highlight of his career.

Sania Mirza (IND), 29

Mirza might not be a household name in North America even if plenty remember her hard, flat forehand when she was a top-30 singles player.

Sania Mirza

But in India, she’s an icon. Female sportswomen are rare enough in those parts, and we can’t even imagine the pressures she has back home. But she has handled it all with a lot of class and dignity, and you won’t find a more popular player.

Mirza stopped playing singles in 2012, but she had one WTA Tour title and 14 on the ITF circuit. As a doubles specialist, it has gone really well. REALLY well. She hit No. 1 in April, and remains tied at the top of the doubles standings with Hingis, miles ahead of any competition.

Mirza-HingisIW_new

She has 32 titles – nine of them this year alone since hooking up with Martina Hingis at Indian Wells in March. (she also won Sydney with Bethanie Mattek-Sands). In 2014, she won the WTA Tour Finals title with Cara Black in Singapore. This year, she and Hingis capped off a superb year by winning it again, after also winning Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, Wimbledon, US Open, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and Beijing.

Hingis had been playing with Flavia Pennetta last year, and the pair reached the US Open final a year ago but with Pennetta still a force in singles (no one knew how much of a force until New York this year), and Mirza losing Cara Black to more-or-less retirement and not quite having the results she wanted with Su-Wei Hsieh (one problem is they both preferred one side of the court).

They lost in the second round to Canadian Gaby Dabrowski and her partner Alicja Rosolska in Australia. And the aftermath was a spat with her friend Rosolska where she, um, said some THINGS. (It all seemed to stem from Mirza feeling Dabrowski had touched a ball that went out, and didn’t “own up”. Dabrowski said she didn’t touch it. But it got snippy, along the lines of Mirza saying something like “I don’t think we can be friends any more :-O ).

Rosolska-Mirza_new

Hingis and Mirza began at Indian Wells, and they took it seriously – they were out on the practice court twice a day, working hard, in an effort to gel as quickly as possible. And they sure did.

As a mixed doubles player, Mirza is a Slam winner: 2009 Australian and 2012 French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi, and the 2014 U.S. Open with Bruno Soares of Brazil. She’s a Wimbledon short of the mixed Slam.

On the personal front, Mirza was engaged to a man named Sohrab Mirza (from the sounds of it, it sounded like an arrangement between two families that had known each other a long time) but broke that off in 2010. Then, a whirlwind romance and marriage with Pakistani cricket star Shoaib Malik, which created the predictable tabloid headlines. Plus, the devilish Mr. Malik ended up having the inconvenience of a previous wife, which he denied at first, then ‘fessed up to. And that created drama for awhile.

Whatever Mirza does, it seems, she’s in for criticism. As previously noted, we can’t even imagine the pressures of just being her. Her life would probably make a pretty great movie some day. She handles it all with a lot of class.

 

Helen Kelesi (CAN), 46

Kelesi-FedCup Kelesi was nicknamed “Hurricane Helen” during her playing career for reasons of temperament.

But for a long time, she the most successful female player out of Canada – until Aleksandra Wozniak and later and Genie Bouchard came along.

Kelesi won two singles and two doubles titles on the WTA Tour, and reached a career best of No. 13 in singles and No. 26 in doubles during her career.

She was near her best when tragedy struck, and she’s lucky to still be alive.

First came a tumour behind her nasal cavity – surgery in 1995. And again in 1997.

And in 2001, tumours wrapped around her optic nerve.

Her skull bone got infected, so they had to cut a chunk of it out. Eight or nine surgeries. Unreal.  Here’s a good story from a few years ago about her journey.

 

Albert Portas (ESP), 42

Albert PortasWhen you’re a Spanish tennis player, you can be a very good one and pursue your career basically in the shadows, just because of the sheer numbers.

Portas, who was already 21 when he turned pro, got into the top 20 in 2001, peaking at No. 19.  He won his one ATP Tour title that year, in Hamburg. His one Tour doubles title came in 2000 in Umag, also on clay. Yes, you could consider him a clay-court specialist (he reached the Umag doubles final two other times in his career, in 2002 and 2006).

Portas’s career ended in 2007 with a second-round loss to Pablo Andujar in Seville. But he actually came back to play a match in a Futures event in Tunisia in September last year, retiring down 3-5 in the first set. He played a doubles match at a Futures in Egypt back in April, too.

 

Robert Kendrick (USA), 36

KendrickKendrick was an American who came out of the college ranks, an all-American at the University of Washington and then at Pepperdine.

He reached No. 69 in singles in 2009 and has one career title in doubles, on grass at Newport in 2006 with Jürgen Melzer of Austria.

Kendrick didn’t have a ton of success at the Grand Slam level, but at least when he qualified or won a first round, he subsequently lost to good players: he took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the second round of Wimbledon in 2006, and has lost to Djokovic, Haas, Soderling, Andy Murray, Gael Monfils and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Monfils match, at the U.S. Open in 2010, also went five sets.

At the French Open in 2011, though, Kendrick tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine, which he blamed on something he took for jet lag.

His suspension ended up being eight months after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, with the usual “seemed as though there was no intent to enchance performance” stuff and the calls from other players to overturn it.

Kendrick played his last Slam match at that fateful Roland Garros; he returned in 2012 but by April, his ranking had fallen to No. 689 and by July, he wasn’t playing. Kendrick returned for a Challenger match in Sacramento in Sept. 2012, and played the qualifying at Indian Wells last year (and lost to Michael Shabaz in the first round).

Just a career that in the end, sort of didn’t end up happening even if reaching the top 70 is a terrific accomplishment.

 

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