Tennis Birthdays – Oct. 15, 2015

One of the best Slamless women, and two Jesses. What are the odds?

Elena Dementieva (RUS), 34

Yes, she’s younger than Serena Williams. And in a few weeks, she will celebrate (if that’s the word) her five-year anniversary as a retired person.

It wasn’t that the Russian still couldn’t play, but the grind and the nagging injuries just sort of caught up to her. Dementieva played a long time, and had a great career.

She retired – suddenly, without any warning there was the announcement – at the Tour championships in 2010, which were in Qatar, after a loss to Francesca Schiavone in her final round-robin match.

The Russian with the incredible legs and the incredible (!!) serve toss got to No. 3 in the world in 2009, just a year and a half Mama and Elena Dementieva_newbefore the retired. She reached No 5 in doubles in 2003 even though she wasn’t particular good at it. But she was a good enough player, that made her a good-enough doubles player. She represented Russia in three Olympics, winning the gold medal in 2008 and the silver medal in Sydney in 2000.

Dementieva’s ever-present mother Vera, a former teacher, was most often listed as her coach. She had others come in here and there, but she was one of those players who had a constantly-worrying mom at her side. Once she started dating Maxim Afinogenov, a Russian hockey player, it was a trio.

We remember on a rainout day at the U.S. Open hitting the Burberry flagship store in Manhattan (just to look, really, pinky-swear). And who do we see suddenly walking up the stairs to the top floor – where they stock the high-end fashions for really skinny people with fat wallets – but the trio. Elena was first, followed by Mom, followed by faithful Maxim with the bags.

Yup, pretty much.

Dementieva won 16 singles and six doubles titles. Her best chance at a major came in 2004, when she lost in the finals at both Roland Garros and the U.S. Open. Both times, she lost to first-time Slam winner and countrywoman.

She got killed by Maxim Afinogenov_newMyskina in Paris, winning just three games. And she lost to 19-year-old Kuznetsova in New York, 6-3, 7-5.

It’s a shame; she probably deserved a Slam (she also got to two U.S. Open finals in doubles). But she got the Olympic gold. And in Russia, that might be even greater currency.

Dementieva married Afinogenov in July, 2011. It looked, in retospect to be a fairly eventful occasion; countrywoman Maria Kirilenko attended with longtime boyfriend Igor Andreev. Russian hockey star Alex Ovechkin was also there; a short while later, Kirilenko and Ovechkin were in a romance that ended in a broken engagement.

Imagine if Kirilenko had caught the bouquet; instead, it was Vera Dushevina who did, and at last check she’s still looking for that Prince Charming. Meanwhile, Kirilenko is now a mom, with another guy.

Here’s some video of that.

Their first child, daughter Veronika, was born last April.

Jesse Levine (CAN), 28

The Ottawa-born Floridian, repatriated a few years ago, has never been able to participate much in Davis Cup in part because of the rise of Vasek Pospisil and, in recent times, because of a big elbow problem.

Jesse Levine_new

Since November, 2013, Levine has played just two matches. He played one at the Challenger in Rimouski in March 2014, then had a non-invasive surgical procedure and finally made his way back in a Futures in Houston last week. He won his first doubles match, but retired in the first set of his singles match up 5-2. He hasn’t played since.

The prognosis is probably not that good. But Levine hasn’t yet confirmed the next step for the elbow, or made any sort of official announcement. A good dude who deserved better. But he’s keeping busy; and he’s got an absolutely adorable girlfriend. So life is pretty good in South Florida.

Jesse Levine

Roscoe Tanner (USA), 64

Roscoe-Tanner-YoungRoscoe-Tanner-jailTanner was the original big server, once clocked (unofficially) at 153 miles an hour, a dashing lefty with a great abbreviated service toss that only went as high as he needed it to go.

Not to mention the awesome Sergio Tacchini duds (which were SWEET back then, made in Italy instead of some Asian sausage factory and with the best and most fabulous cotton).

Tanner won the Australian Open in 1977, got to the Wimbledon final against Bjorn Borg in 1979, and made the U.S. Open semi-finals twice even if his career was cut a bit short by an elbow injury.

Before all that, he graduated from Stanford with a degree in political science, and came from a well-off family. He was a golden guy. But his tennis career was the best part of his life.

Tanner’s retirement has been, well, eventful and sad. Three wives, two stints in jail, bankruptcy, bad checks, skipping out on co-signed loans, a paternity suit, unpaid child support. His second wife said she even had to sell his Australian Open trophy because he had ruined her financially.

It’s all outlined in this good New York times piece from a couple of years ago.

Victor Pecci (PAR), 60

If you thought the Tweener was some sort of recent invention, think again.

Pecci was doing it 35 years ago. Jimmy Connors’ reaction is priceless.

Victor-PecciThe 6-foot-4 Paraguayan (not only were top players from Paraguay rare, so were 6-foot-4 South American players) got to the French Open final in 1979, six years after he won the boys’ title. After defeating Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Connors in the previous two rounds, he lost to, of course, Bjorn Borg.

He got to the top 10, peaking at No. 9. He won 10 tour singles titles (almost all of them on clay in South America) and 12 doubles titles in his career.

Pecci was also a longtime Davis Cup representative for Paraguay, and later a captain.

Jesse Witten (USA), 33

The American from Naples, Florida had a brief, shining moment on the big stage at the U.S. Open in 2009.

Ranked No. 276, the University of Kentucky product (who got asked a lot about whether he played football or rugby, too) got through the qualifying, defeated Igor Andreev and Maximo Gonzalez (then ranked No. 79) and reached the fourth round, where he gave Novak Djokovic a tough battle through four sets.

A few months later, at the beginning of Jan. 2010, he reached his career-high in singles of No. 163. But nothing ever really happened for him.

Witten in the Indian Wells qualies in March.

Witten in the Indian Wells qualies in March, 2014.

After the U.S. Open in 2011, he played sparingly – nothing the rest of that season, just five events in 2012.  His ranking out of the top 500, Witten spent much of 2013 in the lowly Futures events, finishing up in September with a couple of Challengers in the U.S.

And then, suddenly, he was the new hitting partner for Brit Laura Robson, the one who would be with her while “coach” Nick Saviano wasn’t there at the end of 2013. And then, Saviano suddenly wasn’t her coach, he was former BFF Genie Bouchard’s coach. And Witten was her official coach.


Not for long, Robson had surgery on her wrist and since then, has returned only briefly in the second half of 2015. But in the early days of that injury, imagine our surprise when we walked around the courts at Indian Wells during the qualifying this year and saw a guy who looked a lot like Jesse Witten playing a match.

A guy’s gotta earn a living. But it hasn’t been much of one; Witten earned less than $6,000 last year, and just over $7,000 this year (his last match was a first-round loss in qualifying at the US Open). At the moment, he’s ranked No. 878.

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