Tennis Birthdays – Oct. 4 , 2015

You probably didn’t know his name was Aleksandar. He’s known as “Big Sascha”.

Aleksandar Bajin (GER), 31

As a player, Bajin didn’t do much. He broke into the top 1000 in 2007, but only played a total of 12 matches on the ITF circuit.

But as a hitting partner/friend/confidante to Serena Williams, Sascha Bajin was able to live out his tennis dreams. It’s clear when you talk to the guy that he just loves the game. And he’s living the dream.

Hitting partners are a dime a dozen, and players change them like socks. But Bajin endured for a long time. Obviously he does the job on the tennis court. But his good nature and his loyalty to his employer seemed to cut a lot of mustard with Miss Serena, who does have a history of keeping her small circle tight, and longstanding.

And then – suddenly, it was over. He wasn’t at the Australian Open this year, noticeably. Williams said he was “on injured reserve”. But then, he was history, as was Williams’ longtime physio Esther Lee. There’s probably a pretty good story there.

Madison Keys - Azarenka -practice Aug28

He bounced back quickly, joining forces with Williams rival Victoria Azarenka, as she hustled to put a new team in place earlier this year after coach Sam Sumyk dumped her for Genie Bouchard. It’s not quite the same, but it seems to work well and there don’t appear to be any hard feelings all around.

On his ITF bio, he lists his coach as “Santa Clouse”. Which is pretty hilarious. There was a nice little piece on him in the New York Times Magazine just before the U.S. Open last year (otherwise known as the Genie Bouchard issue).

And, as you can see, he works out a bit.

Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK), 27

Magdalena Rybarikova_new

Currently ranked No. 71 (down from No. 49 a year ago), we always thought the willowy Slovak, who nearly always has a super-pleasant expression on her face, was going to do a lot better.

She had a nice tool box full of skills, including great hands. But she has so far not been able to develop the consistency needed to do it week after week, or stay healthy for prolonged periods of time.

Stil, Rybarikova reached a career high of  No. 31 two years ago and more notably, has four WTA Tour titles to her credit.

She “pre-celebrated” her birthday yesterday by losing in the qualifying at Beijing to Bojana Jovanovski, after winning the first set 6-1.

Torben Ulrich (DEN), 87

Torben UlrichYou wonder if this tennis iconoclast, who currently lives in Tiburon, Calif., made a pit stop at the ATP Challenger going on right in his back yard this week. There’s a chance he might have wanted to play.

Later in life, his name came up more often because he is the father of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. But what a life in tennis he led.

He played on the tennis four from the 1940s through the 1970s (per Wikipedia), and on Masters tour after that.

He played more than 100 Davis Cup rubbers for Denmark and in 1977, pushing 49, he became the oldest Davis Cup player in history.

Ulrich’s best Grand Slam effort was reaching the fourth round at the U.S. Open. But he was so far beyond that. If you want to get the sense of what a real tennis “personality” might be like, read this and just try to visualize him. He got into the top 100 on the brand-new ATP computer in 1973 – right after his 45th birthday.

Bjorn Phau (GER), 36

After a long career in the trenches with occasional moments shining in the big spotlight, the man with the sweet one-handed backhand wound it down last season.

His last singles match was in June, 2014 in Kosice, Slovakia, where he retired down 1-6, 0-2 to Gerald Melzer with a left knee injury.

Phau’s best was No. 59 in singles back in 2006 (and No. 55 in doubles in 2005). But he still played on nearly a decade after that.

Bjorn-Phau_new

 

The issue with the knee was chronic patellar tendonitis, and he dealt with it for a couple of years before finally admitting defeat.

It didn’t take him long to start working as a coach, with his own former coach Robert Orlik. Among others, he’s worked with Annika Beck and Tobias Kamke.

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