MIAMI, Fla. – With a ranking of No. 176, 20-year-old Michael Mmoh has not risen through the ranks as quickly as his American Frances Tiafoe, who is 10 days younger but turned pro a year earlier, in 2015.
Mmoh’s path has been a lot different. Maybe slow and steady is going to be his way.
His father Tony, a Nigerian, was the part-time captain of the Saudi Arabian Davis Cup squad. And so Mmoh was born in Riyadh. He left for the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. at age 13. (He also – FYI – has Australian citizenship).
The key was to transition an essentially defensive game – a surprise, given Mmoh’s size and athletic ability – to a more pro-style offense. That way might be easier than the reverse, but it’s still easier said than done.
And then, there is the serve …
Here’s a taste of it, shot at Indian Wells a few weeks ago.
It’s definitely … unique. Sort of combines the old feet-together delivery of Gaël Monfils with the rather deliberate ball bouncing of Tomas Berdych.
No doubt tennis fans out there can come up with a few other combinations for this one!
Stalled in top 200
Mmoh missed a big chunk of 2016 with an arm injury. But he jumped into the top 200 for the first time at the end of that season, when he was still 18.
But since then, he has stagnated. His career high of No. 141 came last September, in the middle of a run of eight Challengers on U.S. soil. But he ran out of gas at the end of it.
Maybe 2018 will be the year. But he needs to have “that” tournament.
The American started the season off perfectly. After qualifying, he upset No. 68 Federico Delbonis and No. 33 Mischa Zverev before losing to 18-year-old Alex de Minaur in the quarterfinals in Brisbane.
Those were the first two main-draw ATP Tour victories of Mmoh’s career. But they weren’t enough to get any momentum going.
So maybe it will be Miami.
First win on Key Biscayne
Mmoh received wild cards into the Miami main draw in 2016 and 2017. In 2015, his ranking outside the top 500, he received a wild card into the qualifying. Each time, he lost in the first round.
This year, he had to earn his way in. Mmoh got into the qualifying on the strength of his own ranking. And he produced.
The American defeated No. 22 seed Ramkumar Ramanathan of India and No. 2 seed Mirza Basic of Bosnia to quaify. Both were in two tight sets.
For a first-round opponent in the main draw, he drew wild card Christopher Eubanks and defeated him 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. On Friday, he’ll play No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Bautista Agut is by far the highest-ranked player Mmoh has ever faced. They lead things off on Court 2 at 11 a.m.