Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 10, 2019

Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS), 23

Four years ago, at 19, a young Aussie up-and-comer had made his way to a then career-high No. 107, slowly but surely.

He might not have been as incandescent as his slightly-older pal Nick Kyrgios, with whom he shares Greek heritage.

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He might not have been as precocious as another contemporary, Bernard Tomic.

But he was coming.

Kokkinakis also had managed to stay healthy during this period, while Kyrgios had not. He climbed 450 spots in the rankings in 2014, and was one of only four teenagers ranked in the top 150.

It seemed the Australian Davis Cup team would be set – for a decade or more to come.

Fast-forward four years.

This pic, at the US Open qualifying last year, sort of sums up Kokkinakis’s career so far. But he’s still only 23. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Tomic has been … all over the place. Kyrgios still deals with injuries (he’s out of the Houston clay-court event this week). Kokkinakis, now 23, has been decimated.

Currently ranked No. 186 – only No. 12 in his own country, Kokkinakis’s list is long. 

Kokkinakis
Thanasi Kokkinakis wore this on the practice court at the French Open in 2015. (Yeah, we thought the same)(Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He underwent shoulder surgery in Dec. 2015, after reaching a career-best No. 68 after the French Open that year.

And the only match he played during the entire 2016 season was at the Rio Olympics.

But after that, his ranking disappeared. He didn’t even have a ranking between Sept. 2016 and June, 2017, per the ATP Tour website.

Kokkinakis played Brisbane to open 2017, won the doubles – then missed 18 weeks with an abdominal strain. 

Kokkinakis
In April 2015, everything was coming up roses for Aussie tennis.

It was a long road back. Ranked No. 698 at Queen’s that year, the wild card beat then No. 6 Milos Raonic (it was his first top-10 win ever).

Ranked No. 454, he beat Tomas Berdych and Taylor Fritz to reach the final at Los Cabos, Mexico, before the US Open.

In 2018, he defeated Roger Federer at Indian Wells – then suffered ankle and knee injuries.

He played throughout the season, and got his ranking up near No. 150.

The two former rising stars, Kokkinakis and Tomic, met in the first round of qualifying at the US Open last year. It got the attention of Patrick Mouratoglou, among others. And Kokkinakis won it before losing in the second round.

For some reason, Tennis Australia declined to give him a main-draw wild card in Melbourne this year. Still, he got the job done in the qualifying.

But in the first round against Taro Daniel, Kokkinakis retired because of that shoulder. He has pulled out of multiple tournaments since then, including the qualifying at Delray Beach, Indian Wells and Miami.

He was due to play the Mouratoglou Open last week, a place he often trains. But that didn’t happen.

Finally, the Aussie is back in the saddle this week at a Challenger in Barletta, Italy.

The No. 10 seed, he had a first-round bye. But he posted his first victory since Australia in the second round, defeating Italian wild card Giulio Zeppieri (a 17-year-old with no ATP ranking), 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

It’s a start.

Elias Ymer (SWE), 22

The elder of the two Ymer brothers from Sweden (Mikael is 20), Elias hasn’t quite fulfilled the early promise he showed.

Still, it’s a high bar. His ranking stands at No. 114, only a few spots off a career high reached after last year’s French Open. And he had the best player in recent Swedish tennis history, Robin Soderling, working with him.

But Ymer has sort of plateaued, hovering between 100 and 140, since breaking into the top 200 in Oct. 2017.

He’s currently coached by Milos Sekulic.

Ymer hit No. 5 in in the ITF junior rankings at the beginning of 2013. 

The list of players who defeated him in the big junior tournaments are all names you’ll recognize: Christian Garin at the US Open, Cameron Norrie at the Canadian Open, Alexander Zverev at Wimbledon, Kyle Edmund at the French Open, Laslo Djere at the Orange Bowl (in the final) and Eddie Herr, Jordan Thompson at the 2012 junior US Open, Karen Khachanov at the Berlin Grade 1.

He defeated both Khachanov and Hyeon Chung at the 2012 junior Davis Cup finals.

As a pro, it’s been a lot more gradual. But he did win two Challenger tournaments last fall, and qualified this year for Indian Wells.

Andy Ram (ISR), 39

IsraelisatWimbledonRam, born in Uruguay, moved to Israel when he was five years old (his father played soccer for Beltar Jerusalem).

He and countryman Jonathan Erlich won both the Australian Open and the big event at Indian Wells in 2008.

Back in 2011, Ram found himself in the center of a controversy when, in the wake of the refusal by Dubai to allow Israeli Shahar Pe’er into the country, Ram was allowed in the following week to play in the men’s event.

That kind of tells you what you need to know about that part of the world.

Ram got to a career-high No. 5 in doubles after the 2008 Wimbledon.

He has 19 career titles (most, but not all, with Erlich), and banked over $2.6 million before ending things at the end of 2014.

He was the first Israeli to win a Grand Slam title when he won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Vera Zvonareva in 2006.

Above was a neat moment at Wimbledon in 2012, when three Israelis were on the same court together: Ram, and partner Erlich on the other side with Pe’er.

Ram played little in his final season in 2014. He lost in the first round in Australia with Erlich, then didn’t play again until the doubles rubbers for two Davis Cup ties, one in April and the last in September against Argentina.

The last one, a five-set victory, probably should have been a nice send-off at home.

Unfortunately, due to what they considered unsafe conditions in Israel, the ITF decided the tie would be played on a neutral site, which ended up being south Florida.

Manon Bollegraf (NED), 55

The Dutchwoman was a top-30 player in singles in her day, and reached No. 4 in doubles, with 26 titles.

bolegraf Tennis birthdays April 10, 2011She won four Grand Slam mixed doubles titles.

Bollegraf played some senior events, particularly at Wimbledon. In the Tennis.Life photo at left from Wimbledon 2008, she teamed up with Canadian Carling Bassett-Seguso.

The Dutchwoman still had game.

We’ve also seen her wandering around at the French Open with her daughter. Her best Slam effort came there, a quarterfinal finish in 1992.

From 2006 until November 2013, Bollegraf was the captain of the Dutch Fed Cup team. She left her job, saying she could no longer balance work and her family life.

Rui Machado (POR), 35

3225.machado Tennis birthdays April 10, 2011The journeyman reached a career best No. 59 in October 2011, a late bloomer who made his first Grand Slam main draw at the 2008 U.S. Open, at age 24.

His trouble was staying there.

He was in the top 100 most of the time from Oct. 2010 to about the middle of 2012.

But after that, it was a slow and more-or-less steady descent down the other side of the rankings hill.

Machado’s last matches were at home in Portugal. He played doubles and the singles qualifying at the Estoril event there three years ago. The next week, he played a singles match at a Futures event.

And that’s been it.

Oscar Hernandez (ESP), 41

One of the legions of Spanish clay-courters just a notch or two below the top players, Hernandez made it into the top 50, checking in at No. 48 in October 2007.

Then, Hernandez originally announced his retirement from tennis in July, 2011.

And then, suddenly, he reappeared in the spring of 2013, planning to play the qualifying at Roland Garros on a special ranking.

He was practicing on site and everything.

But he forgot one little detail: he needed to sign “unretirement” papers and re-enroll in the drug-testing program – and be in it for awhile – before being allowed to play again. And he kind of didn’t do that. 

He blamed the ATP for not telling him – we’re talking about a 34-year-old grownup professional man here.

(This is the same problem Canadian Rebecca Marino had, when she first planned to return to action in the fall of 2017. She did not blame the WTA for failing to give her the heads’ up).

The Spanish federation said at the time that the ATP controlled the official entry list at Roland Garros and they had put him on that list anyway – as if this was some sort of tacit approval.

No matter; Hernandez was out. 

But he did return in September.

In 2014, he attempted the qualifying at the first three Slams of the season, losing in the first round each time. In New York, he made it to the final round before bowing out. 

To this day, we have zero clue he got into any of them, with a ranking in the 1500s. It’s clearly one of the mysteries of life. There is nothing we’re aware of in the “protected ranking” rule book that would allow him to play FOUR Slam qualies.

More unusually, these were the only four singles matches he played during the first nine months of the season. And he earned more than $26,000 (by the exchange rates of the day) just by showing up, and with those two wins in New York

Hernandez played three low-level Futures to close out the season – two of them in Zimbabwe, and banked about $800.

That was it. Well – probably.

He’s still nowhere on the ITF’s “retired players” lists. So there might be more in store.

Whatever his career – including all the oddities – Hernandez will always be remembered for this epic moment with Crazy Dani Koellerer on a clay court in South America.

That’s even better than the Tsonga thumb dance.

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