Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 13, 2019

Anastasija Sevastova (LAT), 29

When this clever Latvian reached a (then) career best of No. 36 after the 2011 Australian Open, she was 20 but looked about 14.

And she was playing with what looked like a … Kneissl, which we hadn’t seen since the early days of Ivan Lendl.

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But a little more than two years later, she officially retired. 

There were a lot of physical issues.

“I decided to stop because it was depressing. I had big back problems, some muscular problems, all the time getting fit then injured again – I was not happy, so I decided to stop and see how my body reacted,” she said at the time.

And then … surprisingly, Sevastova applied for reinstatement into the ITF’s anti-doping  program in December, 2014.

A young Sevastova during her first career, at the 2010 French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She started from absolutely nowhere, at a $10,000 ITF in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt as a wild card at the start of 2015. She won the singles and doubles there, dropping only one set (in the first round of doubles). Then she moved on to places like Trnava, Antalya and Ahmedabad, India and the next thing you know, she was close to the top 400.

By the end of 2015 she was at No. 110.

Sevastova didn’t play a Grand Slam from 2012 through 2015.

By the end of 2016, she was a US Open quarterfinalist and ranked No. 35.

Last summer, she was a US Open semifinalist and finished the season at … No. 12.

2275.sevastova 2 Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011Sevastova is a shining example of how the game can wait for talent. She joins Aussie Ashleigh Barty (who is younger and whose break came a little earlier) to debunk the notion that in this generation, you have to grind it from a young age to succeed, at the expense of everything else.

But you have to have the talent.

Both women (Sevastova studied at university during her break; Barty played cricket) came back stronger, with renewed passion and with adult bodies more resistant to the physical grind.

Sevastova’s path was out of the mold anyway. It was reported that she didn’t even take tennis seriously until she was about 15 years old.

She only played three junior tournaments her entire career, all of them the lowest Grade 5. She played her first Fed Cup matches a few weeks after her 15th birthday and just about the time she turned 16, she headed out to the grind of the ITF circuit on a full-time basis.

A few years later, she was in the top 40. 

 

Meghann Shaughnessy (USA), 40

ShaughnessyFontdaMoraShaughnessy, who is the niece of well-known Boston Globe sports columnist and ESPN personality Dan Shaughnessy, had her day in the sun nearly 20 years ago.

She fell just shy of the top 10, at No. 11, after the U.S. Open in 2001.

That was September 10, the day before. …

Shaughnessy also reached No. 4 in doubles in 2005.

She wasn’t necessarily a crowd pleaser. But had something few of the girls had – an actual serve.

But she also had a coach, Rafael Font de Mora, who had a serious hold on her from the age of 13. He was also her manager, and a decade older.

Eventually, it became romantic. She was still a teenager when they were engaged, but eventually his jig was up. He moved on to make things complicated for another player, German Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

If there was a commonality between the two (beyond a more-than-passing resemblance, it was that Font da Mora controlled everything, reportedly alienating them from their families in that quest. In an interview with a German tennis magazine, Groenefeld (who put on significant weight during that period, but who looks fabulous and fit now and just won the doubles in Charleston) talked of being weighed three times a day and, if she were a few grams over, to be made to train.

That the two women were also a successful doubles team just made the whole situation that much more awkward.

 

The other issue was control over the finances. With Shaughnessy, de Mora reportedly waived his coaching fees in exchange for a percentage of her earnings. That can always get dicey down the line. With Groenefeld, de Mora remained her manager even after she got away from his as a coach.

1057.bms 12 Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011Here’s a piece from Sports Illustrated that documents a bit of that, in the wider context of sport. It definitely didn’t seem like a good situation.

It seems as though Shaughnessy (or Groenefeld, who could serve at 120 mph back in the day and was an excellent singles player) ever truly recovered and maximized their talent – even if both had good careers.

Shaughnessy’s sportswriter uncle wrote a piece about her back in the day that sheds a lot of light on the whole process.

Injuries didn’t help – the left knee, especially.

But she became a doubles specialist and in 2011, got all the way up to No. 15.

Shaughnessy and the fabulous Bethanie Mattek-Sands teamed up in 2011. Their title at the Paris Indoors was the 17th of Shaughnessy’s career. The pair also made the final at Indian Wells, and Charleston.

Awhile back, word was Font de Mora might be back in the picture with Shaughnessy. But she announced in 2012 she was engaged again – not to him.

The lucky fellow was Nick Anthony, who is a high-performance manager at Exos and has worked with the American Davis Cup team. And they did indeed marry in Oct. 2014.

Groenefeld (now 33) also is recently married, to longtime coach Ingo Herzgerodt, 47.

Shaughnessy also was involved in a situation with former baseball superstar Roberto Alomar in 2010, having sued him for exposing her to HIV during a relationship back in 2004 and 2005 and reportedly receiving a settlement.

All of which to say, she’s picked some beauties. 

Meanwhile, Font de Mora still runs his ITUSA Academy in Arizona. And Shaughnessy and Groenefeld (along with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Jarmila Groth) among the “success stories” on the academy’s website.

Groenefeld’s first name is misspelled.

Greta Arn (HUN), 40

Arn at the 2013 Australian Open. That was the last Grand Slam main draw she played, as she continues a comeback. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Arn was struggling along on tour after topping out at No. 81 in the world in 2002. That was eight years after she played her first pro event, all the way back in 1994.

But she persevered and, at the (relatively) advanced age of 32, reached her career best of No. 40 in May, 2011.

Arn has dual nationality (German and Hungarian, both of which she has represented internationally) and her training base is/was Rome. Her residence is listed at Switzerland. A true tennis mutt.

She defeated Maria Sharapova, Julia Goerges, and Yanina Wickmayer en route to her second career title in Auckland to start the 2011 season. It was her first since her maiden crown in Estoril in 2007, where she came through the qualifying.

Arn and another comebacking player, Rebecca Marino, practiced together and bonded a bit at the Saguenay Challenger in Oct. 2017. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

But after Arn lost in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying in 2013 to Julie Coin of France, she stopped.

She got a degree in architecture. Lived her life.

Arn returned four years later, in July 2017, at an ITF in Budapest as a wild card. She was then 38.

She reappeared in the WTA rankings that month at No. 784 and by the end of the year, was inside the top 300. That included a pit stop in Saguenay, Québec, where she won a $60,000 ITF tournament and ran into another player who was about to return to action after a long layoff, Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

But Arn has not been able to get much above that, and lost some 150 spots by the end of 2018.

She’s still around, though. And as she was about to turn 40, Arn has played in the main draw of a couple of WTA tournaments this season (her first since Jan. 2013).

Arn qualified at the Budapest event in February. And then last week, she got through three rounds of qualifying in Monterrey, and reached the second round before losing to Kristina Mladenovic.

Arn won her first main-draw WTA Tour match since 2013 in Monterrey a week ago. (WTAtv)

Simon Greul (GER), 38

At a relatively advanced age of 29, Greul was playing the best tennis of his career, breaking into the top 60 in March, 2010 and peaking at No. 55.

7206.gretul Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011He beat both Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils at Indian Wells.

Greul also made his Davis Cup debut for Germany in 2010, in a dead rubber against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in which Tsonga retired early in the third set.

But a few years later, he was done.

He did get to play Roger Federer in the second round at the US Open in 2009, among many highlights (and pushed him in the last two sets). He also got to play Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon that same year, in the second round.

Greul’s last tournament was a Challenger in Ortisei, Italy at the end of the 2013 season.

It would have been spectacular, ranked No. 260, to go out with a win. And he nearly did. 

Greul reached the final, beating Dudi Sela (then ranked No. 69) and Dustin Brown along the way. He lost to Andreas Seppi, then ranked No. 25.

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