Tennis Birthdays – Sept. 23, 2015

An international selection of birthdays today, with a few hard-luck stories thrown in.

Juan Martin del Potro (ARG), 27

He’ll be back, right? The man has a lot of fans waiting for that day.

After wrist surgery in May of 2014, this one on his left (non-dominant) hand after already coming back from surgery on his right wrist, the Argentine was first (ambitiously) hoping to return for the U. S. Open. Then for the Asian swing. Then for the Australian Open this year after he tested it out during a few matches at the warmup event in Sydney.

But no; del Potro pulled out before his first match, tried in Miami against Canadian Vasek Pospisil. But back to the operating table it was in mid-June, for the third time on his left wrist.

DelPo wasn't always a hottie. But a little haircut and ... voilà!

DelPo wasn’t always a hottie. But a little haircut and … voilà!

Del Potro was just 20 when he did, at the U.S. Open in 2009.  And he promised great things.

It hasn’t worked out that way so far, because he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. It’s hard to believe that he’s only two years older than Milos Raonic or Kei Nishikori, because it seems they’re still just coming up and he’s already been there for so many years. Except he hasn’t. And the game is poorer for it.

The latest update is that the Argentine has been doing rehab for two weeks, but still can’t lift much with the wrist. A return seems so far away – again.

Del Potro is one of those players who has a weapon – his forehand – that elicits oohs and aahs from fans when he cranks one up. And the viciousness of it is at odds with his laconic, low-key personality, which makes it all the more electric. Basically, he’s kind of a big teddy-bear of a guy with a very kind smile. While a lot of the top players have their lovers and haters, it’s awfully hard to find a tennis fan who doesn’t like or appreciate del Potro. And that’s saying something.

Del Potro knows the drill by now. How tired he must be of having to work so hard, with so little guarantee that this time will be the last time.

It takes a special breed of stubborn.

Melanie Oudin (USA), 24

When 15-year-old CiCi Bellis made her brief splash at the U.S. Open last year, upsetting No. 12 seed Dominika Cibulkova and setting off the American overhype machine, the first thought here was : did they learn NOTHING from 2009?

MelanieOudin

Six years ago, 17-year-old Melanie Oudin, out of nowhere, had a far better run. She went through half of of Russia (we exaggerate only a tad) in getting to the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open despite being undersized, without any major weapons and definitely short on experience. She defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova in successsion – the last three coming back from a set down to win in three.

Oudin looks like this a lot on the tennis court these days.

Oudin looks like this a lot on the tennis court these days.

She just obliviously ran her way through, until she was finally stopped by Caroline Wozniacki. Oudin had reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, too, just weeks after falling in the qualifying at Roland Garros.

The aftermath was okay for awhile; Oudin’s peak ranking came about six months later, when she got to No. 31.

Randomly, she and young Jack Sock won the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open in 2011. That year, she lost in the first round in all four Grand Slams in singles.

Oudin wasn’t equipped to handle it, and her game wasn’t at the point where she could sustain it or build on it. It still isn’t. But she’s still plugging away. The difference now is that people have moved on to the next shiny object, and not many are paying attention. That’s probably for the best, because Oudin has been having one health situation after another.

She got off to a late start last season after suffering a strange muscle-damaging condition late in 2013, apparently due to over-training. She had reportedly been working with fitness guru Pat Etcheberry, whose programs are notoriously brutal on the women.

But there was more; Oudin had surgery to remove a pterygium from her eye (people who spend a lot of time outside in the sun without wearing sunglasses – like tennis players – are susceptible to these. Google the procedure at your own peril; it’s gross).

And then, heart issues. She was diagnosed with an arrhythmia last November, which was almost an upgrade on what the doctors were originally telling her was the cause of her racing heart, which was panic attacks. She had a catheter ablation, which didn’t work, and then another.

Melanie Oudin

Oudin’s current ranking stands at No. 366, although she does have a protected ranking and got to the final round of qualifying at this year’s US Open, where she lost to Jessica Pegula. It’s a long way back. But hopefully a healthy one.

 

 

Marcelo Melo (BRA), 32

Currently ranked No. 5 in doubles, as he was a year ago. Melo reached a career best No. 3 last October after reaching the final in Tokyo with partner Ivan Dodig.

Marcelo Melo

The two have done great things together, notably coming out of relatively nowhere (considering their high ranking) and upsetting the Bryan brothers to take the French Open doubles final this year. After that, they got to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the finals in D.C., consolidating a partnership you wondered about coming into the season when we’d heard that Melo had approached Daniel Nestor, who was looking for a new partner at the time.

Melo and Dodig had to play against each other last weekend in Davis Cup, in a playoff at home in Florionopolis. (Melo with familiar partner Bruno Soares, Dodig with Franco Skrugor, ranked No. 185). After dropping a bagel on the Croats in the first set, Melo and Soares lost three straight. Definitely a shocker.

The Brazilian, who turned pro at the crazy-young age of 15, is not surprisingly nicknamed “Girafa”. He’s the most understated 6-foot-8 guy you’ll find around and, for whatever reason, doesn’t even look that tall. Can’t explain it.

Melo has 15 doubles titles, including two this year and at least one every year since 2007. As a singles player, he got to No. 273 a decade ago.

Earlier in his career, Melo had a lot of success with countryman Soares. They still play Davis Cup together, both have moved on and are doing well with other partners.

 

Carlos Kirmayr (BRA), 65

As a player, the Brazilian got to No. 36 in singles and No. 6 in doubles, with 10 doubles titles. He made five finals in singles, but never pulled one off.

Kirmayr-SabatiniBut he did so much more; he was on the ATP board of directors for five years. He coached Gabriela Sabatini during her best years. And for hears he was the drummer with a band fabulously called “Os Pulguentos”, which means “flea-ridden dogs” or “fleabags”.

Kirmayr was one of the rare players from outside the U.S. at the time (particularly from South America), to go the American college route, at Modesto Junior College and later at San Jose State. He also gave your humble Open Court servant one of her first tennis lessons, during a summer spent with his college buddies in Montreal. Montrealer Pierre Lamarche, later a Davis Cup captain and player, went to Mississippi State and was the head pro at the Monkland Tennis Club. Their crew, well, we were far too young to fully appreciate it but we can only imagine what a good time they had that summer.

Kirmays has a tennis academy in Brazil. In addition to Sabatini, he also coached players like Nicolas Pereira and Cédric Pioline, and was the captain of Brazil’s Davis Cup team for several years. A rich life well-lived in tennis.

 

Mark Woodforde (AUS), 50

MarkWoodforde

The lefty, red-headed half of the Woodies was a top-20 singles player. But he’ll be remembered for his prowess on the doubles court, where he will go down as one of the all-time greats.

His four singles titles (three of them in Australia, two of them in his hometown of Adelaide) pale next to his 67 doubles titles.

Before he teamed up with Woodforde, he made a pretty good pair with John McEnroe; the two won the U.S. Open back in 1989. The Woodies won their first Slam in 1992; rather appropriately, it was the Australian Open.

The Woodies went 12-1 in tournament finals in 1996, which is ridiculously good. Even in Woodforde’s last full year in 2000, the two went 8-1 in finals. That’s probably the one they’ll regret let getting away the most; it was the gold-medal match at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – the Woodies lost to the Canadian pair of Daniel Nestor and Sébastien Lareau.

They won Wimbledon five years in a row from 1993-1997, and again in 2000.  They finally won the French Open in 2000 to complete the set. They won the U.S. Open and Australian Open twice together.

 

Felix Mantilla (ESP), 41

Mantilla was a very good player in his era. But even though he was one of the top juniors in his day, he was often overlooked as a pro because (and this is a familiar refrain) there were Spaniards who were in a different class, including former No. 1s Carlos Moya and Juan Carlos Ferrero. His old junior teammate Albert Costa also was a Grand Slam champion at the French Open.

FelixMantillaMantilla peaked at No. 10 in 1998, and won 10 singles titles and over $5 million on the circuit.

Later, he became one of the few tennis players known to have suffered skin cancer. It’s actually incredible how rare it has been, given how so many are fairly casual about their use of sunscreen despite chasing the sun around the circuit all year long and how many, especially women, don’t wear hats.

He started a foundation to raise awareness, and has received help from the likes of Rafael Nadal in that endeavour.

Mantilla first got the bad news in 2005, and he returned to the tour only 18 months later after battling it. He’s fair-skinned, and he wasn’t the Fernando Verdasco type to shuck the shirt at any opportunity. The cancer first appeared as a mole on his back. There’s some interesting stuff in the link above, about his experience. He came back in 2007 and played a few months, mostly on the Challenger circuit, then moved on with his life.

 

Frank Moser (GER), 39

Big and bruising at 6-foot-5 and over 200 pounds, Moser is one of those doubles vagabonds on the tennis circuit. Even though he’s pushing 40, he sort of looks like a big surfer dude who’s just riding the wave and having a rad time.

FrankMoserHis doubles ranking is No. 121 (about what it was a year ago), which means that he gets into ATP Tour events where he can but mostly plays the Challenger circuit. He did get to No. 47 in 2012.

In the meantime, Moser also got an education. He played at Florida Southern, at the University of Freiburg (in Switzerland) and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. He also plays league tennis in Germany to make ends meet.

Moser’s had a million different partners, but he finally won a Tour event in 2013, in San Jose with the now-retired Xavier Malisse of Belgium.

Last year, he played with Michal Mertinak, Nicholas Monroe, Jesse Huta Galung, Marinko Matosevic, Kevin Krawietz, James Cerretani and Benjamin Becker. His steadiest partner was countryman Alexander Satschko. The two did the summer clay Challenger circuit in Europe together, getting to two finals.

This year, he has played with Rameez Junaid, Divij Sharan, Dominik Meffert, Frank Dancevic (they got to the Drummondville final), Kevin Anderson, Florian Mayer, Marcus Daniell, Aliaksandr Bury, Johan Brunstrom, Andreas Siljestrom, Malek Jaziri, Adil Shamasdin, Jan-Lennard Struff and Frantisek Cermak. So far.

 

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