Tennis Birthdays – Oct. 2, 2015

A WTA Tour retiree turns 31.

Marion Bartoli (FRA), 31

The only thing that wasn’t perfect timing about Marion Bartoli’s retirement, aged just 28, was that she didn’t do it right after winning her unexpected Wimbledon title in 2013.

She may well have thought about it – knowing that it wasn’t ever going to get any better than that and heeding the noise her Marion Bartoli-inshackles_newbody was making. But she gave it one last shot to see where her heart was, heading to Toronto and retiring in her second-round match, then to Cincinnati where she lost to then-No. 25 Simona Halep. She officially announced her retirement in the global capital of … Mason, Ohio, not far from Applebee’s and an amusement park, and witnessed only by a very few.

The Wimbledon title was actually only the eighth (and final) title of her career. Yes, she didn’t have to beat a top-15 player to win it. But she also won it emphatically, without dropping a set in seven matches.

Since then? Well, Bartoli has been all over the place. Not in a tennis-playing way – she tried an exhibition last summer before Wimbledon and couldn’t even play that. But in every other way, no doubt making up for all the fun she didn’t have during her career, when she was on a tight leash – figuratively and literally – as father Walter set about scientifically creating a champion from a girl who didn’t appear to have any of the physical gifts required.

But they did it. Their success should be an inspiration to the less-gifted, even if the methods might have been madness.

She’s dabbling in purse and jewelry designing, has done some commentary (excellent in French; execrable and giggly in her American efforts, enabled by a commentary partner who does her more harm than good). For awhile, she definitely enjoyed all the tasty, caloric treats she denied herself during her career.

But we saw her at the US Open a few weeks ago – considerably trimmed down, fighting form.

Darren Cahill (AUS), 50

Cahill was a fine player in his day, perhaps underappreciated because it was such a great Aussie era, between Pat Cash and Pat Rafter. He got to No. 22 in the world in singles, with two titles, and No. 10 in doubles, with 13 titles.

Unseeded, he got to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open in 1988, beating Boris Becker along the way.

Afterwards, Cahill became a respected coach, and for a long time was associated with the adidas high-performance program, dispensing help to adidas players who needed it. That program is being disbanded at the end of this season.

darren cahill_new

Killer is the master of the on-court consultation, speaking in calm, measured tones and dispensing just enough good advice in easy-to-grasp fashion. You’d want him to be a full-time coach on the WTA Tour just to hear those pearls of wisdom.

Cahill also hit the television commentary racket (pardon the pun), and quickly distanced himself from the merely average with his work for ESPN. Your Open Court correspondent sat next to him courtside for Genie Bouchard’s match against adidas player Sorana Cirstea on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open last year, and his insight was tremendous.

He genuinely seems to be one of the nicest guys in tennis, always a positive word for everyone but, at the same time, honest in his TV work – which is no small feat. He also was unfailingly polite with the stream of people who came down on every single changeover during that Bouchard match to take selfies with him.  “It’s the microphone,” he said modestly, pointing to the big ESPN logo box wrapped around it.

This year, Cahill has been a big help to adidas star Simona Halep, as she found the coaching change she made this season from Wim Fissette wasn’t working out.

 

Thomas Muster (AUS), 48

The former No. 1 was a supreme clay-court player in that era before Rafael Nadal took over the crown – another lefty with big topspin groundies who made life pretty hard for a lot of players.

He has a major, the 1995 French Open, and eight Masters 1000 trophies among his 44 total titles.

Thomas Muster_new

Muster was the original comeback artist. After a freak accident in Miami in 1989, when his leg was crushed between two cars by a drunk driver while he was getting his tennis bag out of the trunk of one of them and he severed a couple of major ligaments in his left knee, he went on a mission to return.

The video of him sitting in a specially-modified chair on a clay court, hitting tennis balls during his rehab, is still a classic. Six months later, he was back and he went on a clay-court tear. The clay was better for his knee, and it was his best surface anyway. According to his ATP Tour bio, he won 24 consecutive clay-court finals in a five-year period ending in July, 1995. He won 40 straight matches on clay in 1995, including that French Open title.  He won 12 tournaments in 1995, which is insane.

After retiring in 1999 and living the good life in Australia, he played some seniors events, was Austria’s Davis Cup captain and then, in 2010, at age 42, he went on a mission to come back. He dropped 50 pounds, put the infamous Muster effort into it, and played some for a year or so, mostly on the Challenger circuit.

Just before his 44th birthday in 2011, he defeated Leonardo Mayer of Argentine (then ranked No. 119) in three sets at a Challenger in Italy. He went 2-25 overall, but rarely did he embarrass himself.

Muster got back on the rankings computer for awhile in 2010-11, but barely broke the top 900, briefly. That wasn’t really the point, though; it was just a challenge he dared himself to accomplish.

He still plays seniors events; he seems to have a lot of diverse interests keeping him busy.

Jana Novotna (CZE), 47

Navratilova-Novotna-USOpen_new

Overlooked during her time, after the Martina-Chrissie and during Graf-Seles eras, the talented all-court player nonetheless won a major title – that momentous occasion at Wimbledon in 1998 when she finally reached the summit she’d been working so hard for her entire career.

Breaking down in tears and being comforted by the Duchess of Kent was just the famous moment of that final, a textbook grass-court display between the Czech and Frenchwoman Nathalie Tauziat.

Novotna got to No. 1 in doubles very early in her career, in 1990. Her best singles ranking of No. 2 came a lot later, when she was nearly 29, right after Wimbledon in 1997 when she reached the final for the second consecutive year – only to be denied again. She won the WTA Tour championships that year, too.

She piled up 24 singles titles and 76 doubles titles, which puts her right up there with the very best.

In 1998, she won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in doubles – all with Martina Hingis. Who knows, they might have won the Australian Open, too – except Novotna didn’t play it. She started her season in Europe in February.

In 1990, she won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon with Helena Sukova – only to be denied the doubles Grand Slam at the U.S. Open, where they were beaten by Martina Navratilova and Gigi Fernandez in the final.

In all, she won 12 majors in doubles, and four mixed doubles majors with Jim Pugh.

 

Igor Zelenay (SVK), 33

Zelenay with average-sized Canadian Adil Shamasdin.

                                                      Zelenay with average-sized Canadian Adil Shamasdin

Currently ranked No. 107 in doubles (up from No. 161 a year ago), the 6-foot-6 Zelenay’s best ranking as a doubles specialist was No. 50 back in 2009. He has never won a title, but has made three ATP Tour finals in his career.

His best singles ranking was No. 279, back in 2005. Basically he’s a Challenger guy who sometimes gets up to the ATP Tour level. He plays with a LOTTA people; this year, mostly with Andrej Martin and Mateusz Kowalczyk. In fact, his three ATP Tour finals have been with three different partners.

 

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