Tennis Birthdays – Sept. 27, 2015

The No. 2 player in the world, a most unassuming one, celebrates.

Simona Halep (ROU), 24

Simona Halep is the No. 2 player in the world. Only Serena Williams is ranked higher than she is. Which is a difficult concept to get around. Two years ago, The Romanian had just broken into the top 20.

Bouchard-Halep-IW_new2How did she get there? She won six titles in 2013. She went 7-9 to start that season in her first nine events, then 43-8 after that.

She’s good. Her talents are probably less obvious than some. She serves harder than you think she would. She generally moves brilliantly. As one coach whose player lost to her pointed out, she changes the direction of the ball incredibly well, regardless of pace.

The 2014 season wasn’t quite as good, with just two titles at relatively smaller events. But she reached the French Open final. And she defeated Serena Williams at the WTA Tour finals in the round-robin event and reached the final there.

This year? Shenzen, Dubai and Indian Wells, along with finals in the big Premier events in Toronto and Cincinnati.

But the US Open, after that solid summer, was a relative disappointment. She fought hard to win matches over Sabine Lisicki and Victoria Azarenka before coming into her semifinal against Flavia Pennetta a prohibitive favourite. She lost it badly. She also lost in the first round at Wimbledon to Jana Cepelova, a slight Slovak whose one big moment came at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston a couple of years ago. Halep also lost in the second round at the French Open to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

She’s very good at what she does, but she could probably be so much better. But it’s hard to argue the methods, given only Williams is ranked higher. Halep’s gone through a few coaches and worked with adidas guy Darren Cahill through the summer. She ditched Wim Fissette last year, citing the preference to have a countryman. But that didn’t really work.

She is so good these days that no one (a few British tabloids excluded) even talks about what was, until she broke through, the most noteworthy thing about her.

The first time we saw her play was in the Australian Open juniors in 2008. She was 17 at the time, and what we remember most about that match was the fact that a couple of cops, twice her age at least, decided a Simona Halep match was a good opportunity to take a little break and stand there, basically drooling. It was a bit stomach-turning given her age – or at any time.

It’s no longer an issue and, putting aside the health and tennis benefits, that’s probably the best consequence of them all.

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Monica Puig (PUR), 22

Monca-Puig-RogersCup2014_new2

Our first contact with the bubbly Puig was after she defeated Genie Bouchard in the semis of the Australian Open juniors in 2011. The score was 6-4, 6-4; Puig was the higher-ranked junior at the time, the No. 5 seed to Bouchard’s No. 14. And she was on a roll; she had won the leadup tournament to the junior Grand Slam without dropping a set, and also had won the doubles there – as it happens, with Bouchard, with whom she also was teaming up in Oz (they lost in the second round).

They even hung out together, seemed kind of friendly-like and all that. And, of course, they wore matching adidas kits – one of adidas’s better efforts; it looked great and flowed beautifully as the ladies moved.

Here’s some epic, throwback video of that match. Let’s just say Puig’s share of the ‘C’MAWWWWWWNNNNN’s was about 90-10.

After the victory, Puig fell down on the court and got emo as if she had just won the thing, leaving Bouchard standing at the net waiting like a dope.  They had seemed friendly enough through the week; that handshake pretty much told the story. 🙂

Bouchard-Puig-Oz_new2

Puig chatted with Open Court after the match, and she was all “Bouchard’s a great girl. She’s going to be a really good player someday. I look forward to playing her when she gets on the Tour with me” kinda thing. It was the insouciance of youth; she was polite and delightful, but it was pretty funny all the same.

Puig quit the juniors earlier than Bouchard did. After that Oz effort in 2011 she played one more event, the 2011 French Open, and lost in the final to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia. And then she went off to seek her fortune.

In the end, Bouchard sort of had the last laugh once she did “join” Puig on Tour. We all know where the Canadian ended up in 2014, although obviously 2015 is a different story. But after some early promise, Puig is currently outside the top 100 at No. 106; her career best was No. 41 in late May of last year.

In the end, she’s a solid player who hits the ball well, but who doesn’t have much size and doesn’t have a really big “something” to hurt opponents with.

Olga Puchkova (RUS), 28

Olga-PuchkovaThe Russian was ranked No. 32 after Wimbledon in 2007.

She’s at No. 493 now, better than the No. 676 ranking she had a year ago. After beginning the season at small Har-Tru events in Florida, she has spent the majority of 2015 playing small tournaments in Russia, Kazakhstan and, oddly, Uzbekistan.

She hasn’t played since August.

Puchkova is currently listed as a Miami resident. At 5-foot-11, she did some modeling-type stuff earlier in her career.  She’s at No. 14 on the list at hottennisplayers.org, which of course would be your reference of choice in this area. The site states that her modeling fame has cut into her tennis-playing career, but it certainly seems as though injuries have played a much bigger role – notably shoulder and knee.

She’s also one of the rare players to have been defaulted from a match for smacking a ball in anger – and having the bad luck of having it nail an official.

Puchkova reached the final of the 2006 Bell Challenge in Quebec City, losing to Marion Bartoli.

 

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