Tennis Birthdays – Sept. 25, 2015

A Canadian, Romanian, Aussie, Monégasque, and a couple of Americans celebrate.

Heidi El Tabakh (CAN), 29

CanadianflagBorn in Alexandria, Egypt, the Canadian hasn’t spent a lot of time there in her life. She moved to Canada with her family when she was eight, but basically relocated to Florida at a pretty young age for her tennis.

For that reason, and probably others, she’s always been outside the cadre of players that Tennis Canada has been supporting – even though for awhile, her ranking was fairly close to the group of players at the time that included Valérie Tétreault and Sharon Fichman. Her career best came three years ago in singles, at No. 146.

Heidi El tabakh2How she’s managed to stay afloat and keep competing all these years is a conundrum that a lot of players of her ilk somehow manage to find a way to do.

El Tabakh has had some long periods of injury, and that has hurt her ranking. Every time she seemed poised to maybe break into the top 100, another injury would hit. Mostly it was her quads.

Most recent came this week. El Tabakh has been playing on a protected ranking as she returns from a long absence because of her back, and won a $25,000 tournament in Redding, Calif. last week. So she heads to Albuquerque, NM this week for a bigger tournament, a $75,000, and has to retire in the second set of her first-round match, and pull out of the doubles. Pretty much par for the course with her star-crossed career.

But she’s had her moments. El Tabakh qualified twice for the French Open main draw and got an appointment on Court Philippe Chatrier for a first-round match against Frenchwoman Arazane Rezai in 2010.

She lost, but she’s a smashing-looking girl and was quite a hit – to the point where a gaggle of Italian journalists came into her press conference just to drool at her, repeatedly asking her if she had been a model – or if she wanted to be. She handled it all with good grace.

El Tabakh made it again in 2012, defeating Camila Giorgi in the final round of qualifying. Unfortunately, she ended up having to play countrywoman Aleksandra Wozniak in the first round. The two went back a long way, back to when their mothers used to take them to tournaments together.

(A note for accuracy: we’re not 1000 percent sure this is el Tabakh’s birthday; there are conflicting reports about this. But hey, reusable post)

 

Monica Niculescu (ROU), 28

The Romanian won Guangzhou a year ago, beating Alizé Cornet in the final. She didn’t drop more than four games in any of her five matches – against quality opponents like Bojana Jovanovski, Misaki Doi and Monica Puig.

This year, a decent run, but not a title defence; she lost to Yanina Wickmayer in the quarter-finals. She may still move up a couple of spots from her current ranking of No. 49.

Monica Niculescu

Guanzhou was her second career singles title; she also has four doubles titles, plus another 38 in singles and doubles on the ITF circuit.

And she’s done it all with a forehand so funky, it should probably get its own exhibit in the tennis hall of Fame. It can charitably be described as a swipe-slice forehand. She can hit it the regular way, but rarely does. Sometimes she hits a two-handed forehand, too. Basically, she has three forehands. Her backhand is far more conventional.

She’ll  hit about $3.5 million in career earnings this week (close to $600,000 this year alone), so that funky thing has taken her a long way.

Davide Sanguinetti (ITA), 43

With his prematurely grey hair, Sanguinetti looked a lot older than he was long before his time. Which pretty much means he looks exactly the same now.

Davide-Sanguinetti

He was a slow-baller in the true sense of the word, yet somehow got to No. 42 in the world in singles, won two titles and earned nearly $3 million on court. He defeated Roger Federer and Andy Roddick in those finals, two guys who shortly thereafter went on to be No. 1 in the world.

Even though he was Italian and even though he was, well, kind of a pusher, his best results came on hard courts and indoor carpet, the fastest surfaces out there.

In 2005, Sanguinetti was the second-oldest player in the men’s top 50, behind only Andre Agassi. He was 32/33 then – that’s not even a big deal today, there are plenty of those guys around in the top 20, never mind the top 50. But it was back then.

He went to Harry Hopman’s Academy in Florida early, then attended UCLA for a couple of years and was 20 when he turned pro.

Coached for a time by Claudio Pistolesi, Sanguinetti went on to be a coach himself, notably for Vince Spadea, Dinara Safina and Go Soeda. We saw him watching intently as Italian veteran Alberta Brianti (yes, she’s still out there plugging away) lost to Turkish player Cagla Buyukakcay in a crazy match in qualifying at the French Open last year. Pistolesi himself has coached several women on the WTA Tour.

Jean-Rene Lisnard (MON), 36

Born in Cannes, France, Lisnard represented Monaco for many years because, well, let’s just say the pecking order in the tiny principality was a little easier to crack than the great French tennis machine – especially late in his career. He became a Monégasque in 2006 – he dreamed of playing Davis Cup, but it wasn’t ever going to happen in France.

But he was also a player who left the umbrella of the French Tennis Federation, and had to make his own way all along.

Jean-Rene Lisnard

He played a long time, through a herniated disc, hip surgery, even meningitis along with the usual money struggles. Guys like Lisnard usually have to play a lot of European interclub matches to make ends meet, which pretty much means they play 12 months a year. It was the hip that did him in or who knows, he might still be playing somewhere.

Lisnard, who looked and played like an old-school guy, got to No. 84 in the world back in 2003 and played a long, long time. He was a compatriot of, and teammate of, the Magnificent One, Michael Llodra and was considered a top prospect when he was a junior. The two combined to reach the U.S. Open junior doubles final all the way back in 1997 (they lost to a couple of guys named Fernando Gonzalez and Nicolas Massu). The previous week, they teamed up to take the title at the big warmup event outside Montreal together.

(Believe it or not, before Open Court was even a twinkle, we saw that match. And y’all thought our appreciation of the serve-and-volley stylings of the Magnificent One™ was just a recent thing. SHAME on you!)

Lisnard’s last official ATP match came at the Monte Carlo event, at home, in 2012. He lost to Viktor Troicki. He played two home ties for Monaco in 2013, and his last match ever may turn out to be a retirement against an obscure Latvian player, in the fourth set of the fifth and deciding rubber. Not exactly how you want to go out.

Before that, he worked with Caroline Wozniacki for a bit (the Monte Carlo connection, right there). That summer, he coached Gilles Muller of Luxembourg (who now works with Brit Jamie Delgado) and he continues to coach kids.

 

Ashley Fisher (AUS), 40

Ashley-FisherThe Aussie now based in Florida barely broke into the top 500 in singles. But he had a very good doubles career, topping out  at No. 19 and winning four titles. For a guy who played table tennis competitively until he was 15 and never played much as a junior, that’s a pretty good effort.

Fisher played four years for Texas Christian University and graduated with a degree in finance. On an injury hiatus in 2010 with a knee issue, he started working for the Tennis Channel doing on-court commentary and proved to be pretty good at it – not at first, but in fairly short order.

He came back in 2011 and played sparingly in 2012 – first-round losses at the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, three matches. And that was it.

Fisher also has served on the ATP player council, and coached Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau. This year, he coached countryman Marinko Matosevic.

His wife Kirsten held several jobs with the WTA Tour (last was vice-president of sales and sponsorship marketing) and also worked for Tennis Canada as director of marketing (from 1998 to 2004) before founding her own company. This year, she also has been a senior sales consultant for the ITF.

Angela Haynes (USA), 31

We thought this one was going to be a good one – especially on the grass courts at Wimbledon.

A lefty born in Bellflower, Calif., which is sort of on the way to Disneyland but kind of in the middle of nowhere, Haynes was a great athlete who came by it honestly; her grandfather Joe played in the Negro Leagues (baseball). She grew up in the hardscrabble town of Compton, a couple of years younger than the Williams sisters but very much a contemporary; her two older brothers were their age, and the kids often practiced together.

angela haynes

Her father coached the kids and spent the rest of the time trying to make ends meet; they were going to be another success story out of Compton. And Haynes’s use of the full-head bandanna was positively McEnroe-like.

A decade ago, Haynes reached the third round at the U.S. Open. But then tragedy struck. Her older brother, also a tennis player (San Diego State) and with whom she was inseparable, died in a motorcycle accident and the next five years were basically emptiness. She really never got it back together.

Haynes reached one quarter-final at the WTA level, in Quebec City in 2008 (she lost to eventual champ Nadia Petrova). Beset by injuries, her last match was in July of 2010 at a $25K event in Texas. A couple of years later she was giving tennis lessons north of L.A., may or may not have become a hairdresser and, when we lost track of her, was about to be a mom.

Vicki Nelson-Dunbar (USA), 53

Vicky-Nelson-DunbarShe is but a hazy memory in the Open Court history books but we did remember that she was involved in a record-setting match.

Just try to visualize what an excruciating non-endorsement of women’s tennis this was (from Wikipedia):

Nelson-Dunbar holds the record for participating in the longest women’s tennis match against Jean Hepner which lasted six hours and 31 minutes. This match featured the longest rally in tennis history, a 643-shot rally that lasted 29 minutes.  The game occurred on September 24, 1984 at a tournament in Richmond, Virginia.

Here’s a great story about it from the New York Times.

Her career high was No. 60 in singles, and Nelson-Dunbar did win one WTA Tour title and got to the fourth round of the U.S. Open in 1982. But this is how she’ll go down in history. Well, it’s better than NOT going down in history.

 

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