The tennis philosophy of Jorge Fernandez

ROLAND GARROS – There are parents who have never really played a sport who (with a lot of unheralded – and often uncompensated – help) have created champions.

The king of them all is Richard Williams. With honorary mention to Yuri Sharapov.

There are some who are tennis coaches by trade. Tessa Shapovalova, the mother of Canadian Denis, is a recent example.

And then there are fathers who create stars whose background is in another sport, often soccer (Stefano Capriati, Piotr Wozniacki).

Add Jorge Fernandez to that mix, as the father/coach of newly-minted French Open junior girls’ champion Leylah Annie Fernandez. He’s not at that level of tennis father/coach yet. But he’s working on it.

Not only that, Fernandez has another daughter, 15-year-old Bianca Jolie, just starting to play the pros.

Out-of-the-box-thinking

Tennis fathers are a quixotic, determined, hard-headed, sometimes misunderstood breed.

Sometimes they are crazy and toxic (Damir Dokic, Jim Pierce, Marinko Lučić and too many more to mention).

Most often, they have a vision that strays from the formulaic.

And that rarely meshes well with the tennis federations who have their blueprints, their set ways of doing things in an individual sport where the “typical” way isn’t always the winning way.

A father/coach who goes his own way

Fernandez is one of those father/coaches. He knows what he wants, and believes he knows best. On the other side, the Canadian tennis federation knows what it wants, and believes it knows best. 

So in the overall absence of the two being able to find some sort of common ground, to the benefit of the player, the two sides are separate. It’s not that they’re working at cross-purposes; they’re just not often working together.

The Fernandezs now live in Florida. Tennis Canada’s decision makers are mostly in Toronto (and in Montreal).

And yet, without that teamwork, Fernandez has become the French Open junior girls’ champion. 

Her game is funky, fairly unique for the juniors. Her strokes are far from textbook. But her will and determination are also far from the norm. 

Whether the idiosyncrasies of Fernandez’s game will translate well to the pros is still to be determined. But would she have gotten this far had a more institutionalized way of doing things smoothed out the odder edges?

It’s unlikely. Standardizing a player to be just like so many others strips a player in an individual sport of the essence of who they are. If they can’t be who they are, the imposter typically won’t get as far.

You could make the same argument for Shapovalov, who also chose to make his own way outside the institutional confines, won junior Wimbledon and made it to the top 20 on the ATP barely out of his teens.

Proud father, after the victory

It was notable to this observer that after Fernandez won her semi-final match against Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (who defeated her at the US Open), the father/coach had a … bro handshake and a fist pump for his daughter.

And after that, a lot of immediate feedback about the process.

As if it were a routine win, but not the ultimate goal.

After the title match? Big, jubilant, loving hugs and kisses all around.

Jorge

We spoke to Jorge Fernandez after that win. 

Here’s what he had to say.

“In awe”

“I’ve been hearing about this since she was five or six. She’s been taking about Justine Henin when she saw her on TV, the French Open.  Oh, and this other little player – you may know him – Rafael Nadal. He’s been an inspiration for her, especially on clay. And it’s been quite a journey for her in the clay tournaments.

Early on a lot of people says she was too small to play clay. She didn’t have big legs. Didn’t have a big back. The good news is that we didn’t listen to it, and I encouraged her to not give up on her dream. She always wanted to win the French Open. Out of all the tournaments, this is the No. 1 she wanted to get done.

We never talked about it, because we didn’t want to put any undue pressure. So from a dad’s perspective, what can I say, I’m in awe. I’m in awe.”

Fernandez (left) and younger sister Bianca during Fernandez’s second-round win. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Improvements from last year

“From a coaching perspective the biggest difference this year from last year is her mental capacity to really handle the ups and downs, the corrections necessary in her game in the moment. Even though she breezed through it, there were difficult moments in every match (in Paris). Moments where she had to actually had to keep her feet on the ground. Instead of just playing tennis, she played the mental game. And that was the difference; it got her out of of some trouble. And after that, her talent speaks for itself.

At some point (during the final), I was trying to be patient – which is not my typical thing. At one point I got tired. I forget what I said. Probably, ‘C’mon Leylah, let’s go!’ She turned around and basically said, ‘Calm down. I got this.’

We prepare for situations like that. We prepare for those moments that we know will come. And once again, she proved that she’s not only talented, not only hard working, not only a fighter, but extremely resilient in her mental capacity. People who have played against her, coached her, seen her play, they will echo that.  Her resiliency under pressure is to be admired.”

Jorge Fernandez and former coach Francisco Sanchez at last year’s US Open juniors. Fernandez lost to Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, whom she defeated in the semifinals at this year’s French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“She’s here to stay”

“I hope it won’t change our lives. I hope that she can remain humble and keep working really hard. From the outside perspective, I hope people are noticing that she’s here to stay. I’m not saying she doesn’t have a lot of work to do to get to the WTA level. And we’re going to going to dedicate ourselves to that from this moment on.

We just hope we’re going to get more believers. Yes, she’s small. We don’t need to hear that. We know. But I hope it’s going to change, that there’s more belief, because she needs it. I think she deserves it. And I think she’s earned it.

Now we go back to zero tomorrow and start planning what we’re going to do. Two very successful weeks, a lot of matches. We’re going to tread on being wise and taking care of her body, her emotional state, her mindset. She deserves a few days off. Maybe we’ll see Paris a little bit.”

Jorge Fernandez watches intently as daughter Leylah Annie plays at the Australian Open earlier this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

No Wimbledon in 2019

“It’s a scheduling thing. A commitment to play all the Canadian Challengers, Again, I’m very big believer in taking care of the body. I didn’t think it wise, having very little break one tournament to the next. Grass is not easy. It’s very hard on the body. You can go in there, you win a round, lose the second round, and it attacks your confidence. Maybe we’ll do it next year. She still has a year (in juniors).

The US Open (juniors) is a very big possibility.  But a lot of the decisions will be made based on how she does in the Challengers. How well does she transition? If we find she’s being blown away, maybe she’s just not ready. So there’s no set road right now.

After reaching the semis at the junior French Open in her Grand Slam debut last year, Fernandez lost in the second round at Wimbledon. She won’t play the junior event there this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The Challengers will pinpoint what it is we have to work on. We’ll then take two of those, say, 10 priorities, work on them really hard in the next six months and see what it does. 

I always told her, the end of the day, it’s your call on the court. Nobody’s feeling what you’re feeling. Nobody’s seeing what you’re seeing. It’s an instinct that comes out. Some people have it, some people just cannot get it. There’s no height, there’s no weight. It’s an instinct thing.

She’s going to get stronger, she’s going to get faster, she’s going to get smarter. And we’re going to help her develop her game. We hope that her game will be unique enough to make a difference in the professionals. I think she has all the other attributes. Now it’s about adding a little more essence to it.”

Big week for Canada’s Fernandez family

With four of the five top-ranked Canadian women not on the roster, this week’s crucial Fed Cup World Group I playoff tie in the Czech Republic is a great opportunity for 16-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez.

The top-10 junior will be playing No. 2 singles for Canada. She’ll debut against Czech No. 1 Marketa Vondrousova Saturday in the second match, after Rebecca Marino plays another Fed Cup rookie, Karolina Muchova.

Fernandez currently is at a career-high No. 376 in the WTA Tour singles rankings.

And just to be nominated to the squad – never mind see action – is already a great accomplishment.

But it’s not the only banner moment in the Fernandez family this week.

Fernandez’s little sister Bianca Jolie, who turned 15 in February and is her most frequent practice partner, made her pro tournament debut this week in Ecuador.

Want to start your pro career? Go to Guayaquil

We’re not sure exactly how Bianca Fernandez got into the ITF $15,000 event in Guayaquil. But it likely has something to do with the chaos going on inside the ITF World Tour at the moment.

Fernandez
(Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon)

There are a lot of players out there who are having trouble finding tournaments to get into. So note to them: it appears this one is wide open.

Next week’s $15,000 in Bucaramanga, Colombia looks similar.

Bianca Fernandez wasn’t on the original Guayaquil entry list. The list contained 147 names before withdrawals. But of that long list, only one player, Fernanda Brito of Chile, had a WTA Tour ranking (at No. 547). Brito also entered as No. 1 in the ITF Tour rankings.

Only two of 21 main-draw accepted players showed failed to show. But there were only 12 signed up for a (theoretical) 32-player qualifying. It seems only eight of them showed up. So they all got direct entry into the main draw.

Add in the one junior-ranked player and three wild cards, and you have one spot remaining in the 32-player main draw.

Fernandez has no pro ranking of any kind; she had never played a pro-level event. But she got direct entry into the singles and the doubles. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of showing up. And the Fernandez sisters’ father and coach, Jorge, hails from Ecuador.

Acquits herself well in debut

In the first round, Fernandez came up against American Akilah James. James, 26, is an experienced ITF campaigner whose career high was No. 678 back in 2017.

Fernandez
 (Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon)

She who played collegiately at South Carolina State and the University of Arizona, and has been out on the low-level ITF circuit for the last three years.

Fernandez came close. James won, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (3). 

Not as precocious as big sis

The sisters, some 18 months apart, could pass for twinsies – except Leylah Annie (at left) is the lefty.

When big sister Leylah Annie was still 15, she made her junior Grand Slam debut and reached the semifinals at the 2018 French Open. She lost to eventual champion Cori Gauff.

The younger sister is not quite as precocious.

She has played some junior tennis although, like her sister, she didn’t play at all last fall.

But she’s won her share of matches since essentially making her debut on the ITF junior circuit about a year ago. 

The sisters teamed up for the first time in doubles at the Canadian junior tune-up event the week last year’s US Open.

Outside the structure

Despite Leylah Annie Fernandez’s nomination to the Fed Cup team this week, she is not a product of the Tennis Canada development program that has gotten so much positive press over the last few weeks with the successes of Bianca Andreescu and Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Just before she reached that French Open semifinal (with the exception of Layne Sleeth at the Australian Open, Fernandez was the only Canadian junior – boy or girl – to play in junior Grand Slam main draws in 2018), she did get some help for traveling expenses. High-performance chief Louis Borfiga told Tennis.Life at the time that the financial help came from a separate fund outside the main Tennis Canada development structure.

The way the high-performance program structure is set up, Borfiga said, there are certain criteria to meet. And Fernandez didn’t meet those criteria. But he said they would do what they could to assist.

Doing it on their own

Fernandez
Leylah Annie Fernandez’s mother and sister Bianca watch on as she competes at the junior US Open last September. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Fernandez was given a stipend at the beginning of 2019, which allowed her and father Jorge to travel to Australia, where Fernandez reached the singles final.

Shortly after that, Fernandez reached her career high of No. 4 in the world in the juniors.

Her coach/father had asked for more help, but it was not forthcoming. That may have changed.

The Fernandez family relocated to Deerfield Beach, Fla. a couple of years ago. In 2018, Leylah Fernandez went back and forth to Montreal, where she was working with a Belgian coach named Francisco Sanchez.

That ended, and now she, too, is permanently in Florida and working full-time with her father.

It will be interesting to see where both Fernandezes go from here, essentially making their own way through the choppy waters of professional tennis.

(Tennis Canada/Roger Lauzon photos, taken at the Canadian U16 outdoor champions last summer in Gatineau, Que., were provided by Tennis-Québec)

Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 12, 2019

Jelena Dokic (AUS-CRO-SRB-AUS), 36

Her brilliant but troubled tennis career behind her, Jelena Dokic can now focus on living the rest of her life.

The release of her brutally open memoir, Unbreakable, a little more than a year ago pretty much tore the lid off everything most had suspected about her cruel tennis father, Damir.

And more.

Sadly, it’s not even that unusual a story, especially in women’s tennis. We hear only the more prominent stories. The players who can’t survive it, don’t make it, largely remain in the shadows.

One of the biggest takeaways we got out of that book was noting who tried to help, who should have known but didn’t want to know, and who didn’t lift a finger. Dokic may not have judged them, or be holding grudges. But we know who they are.

That she somehow took all that, and managed to get to the Wimbledon semifinals and No. 4 in the world at a very young age, is just more evidence that champions somehow find a way. And that they’re not wired like the rest of us.

Dokic
Dokic did a fair amount of promotion after the release of her memoir in 2018. You hope it was therapeutic, on some level. And you hope she made enough money from it to start her life properly again, after what she wrote about father Damir and his control of her earnings.

But it’s a childhood and adolescence that leaves so many traces, the scars will always remain.

Still, Dokic seems to be – at least from a distance – moving on nicely.

She took Tennis Australia’s Junior Development Coaching course last summer. And she was regularly seen on television during this year’s Australian Open.  

Dokic
The great Martina Navratilova worked with the Australian women on court at the French Open in 2011, including Dokic.

A decade ago, still only 25, she made a near-miracle resurgence at the Australian Open.

Dokic reached the quarter-finals in dramatic fashion, with three-setter after three-setter in the heat. Ultimately, she went down in three sets to eventual finalist (and future No. 1) Dinara Safina.

She followed it up with a successful Fed Cup. But that effort took a toll. After taking a couple of wild cards, she struggled.

DokicDokic pulled out of Charleston a few months later with what she called “sports fatigue syndrome.” 

It ended up being mononucleosis, and she had to retire with a back injury while beating Elena Dementieva at Wimbledon in 2009

She was disconsolate. It – barring some sort of miracle – was her final shining moment.

Her father then ended up in a Serbian jail for making death threats.

Dokic lost in the first round in Australia in 2010, and professed she was “too tired” for Fed Cup a couple of weeks later.

Five years ago, there was talk of a comeback.  But it didn’t really happen.

Dokic showed up briefly in December 2013, when she played in the Australian Open wild-card playoff tournament at Melbourne Park.

We watched that; frankly, she barely gave it a cursory effort.

Dokic last played doubles at the Australian Open in 2014, losing in the first round.

But her last singles match came seven years ago in Charleston, where she retired in the first round of her match against Galina Voskoboeva.

She’s only 36. But her No. 4 ranking in singles (she also hit No. 10 in doubles) came … 17 years ago already. 

Dokic actually appeared on the Today show in Australia yesterday.

Marcel Granollers (ESP), 33

Dokic

As he turns 33, the veteran Spaniard is mounting one (last?) singles charge.

A former top-20 singles player and No. 4 doubles player (with 16 career titles) had fallen down the ranks significantly.

He was outside the top 150 at the end of 2017. But he hasn’t given up. And he’s playing a whole lot of tennis at the lower levels.

He has maintained his doubles ranking in the 20s, though.

Granollers went from Davis Cup to a pair of Challengers in California last fall. And then he returned to Europe for Basel, Antwerp and the Paris Masters (where he won the doubles), before coming back and playing two more U.S. Challengers after that.

4274.granollers 2 Tennis birthdays April 12, 2011In 2019, he has gone from Pune, India to Vietnam. And then from Melbourne to France, Delray Beach, Acapulco, Miami and Monterrey. 

This week he’s at the clay-court ATP event in Houston. And to celebrate his birthday, he’ll play Casper Ruud in the singles quarterfinals.

He already looks like a safe bet to make the main draw in Paris. If he beats Ruud, he’ll be back in the top 100. Granollers had to play the qualifying at all three majors he entered in 2018.

The Spaniard didn’t take a traditional path. He basically eschewed the junior circuit. The only junior Slam he played was the 2004 French Open, where he won the doubles with Pablo Andujar.

But despite that, he really wasn’t much known for his doubles prowess on Tour until 2012. That year, he teamed up with Marc Lopez and made seven tournament finals, winning three. That included a win at the World Tour Finals in their debut. And this was at the height of his singles success.

Nicolas Monroe, (USA), 37

Dokic

A ridiculously-fit 37-year-old, the American doubles specialist reached his career high of No. 30 in Oct. 2017.

He reached No. 253 in singles back in 2011, and still occasionally plays in the qualifying if there are alternate spots available. But he makes his living in doubles.

Monroe has four career titles, the most recent in Atlanta with John-Patrick Smith of Australia. He also won Stockholm in 2015 with countryman Jack Sock.

This year isn’t going gangbusters. After 10 tournaments, he’s 1-7 at the ATP Tour level, 2-3 at the Challenger level.

He’s also played with five different partners in 2019.

Monroe came to the Tour from the college circuit. He starred at the University of North Carolina from 2000-2004. And he was All-American his final season, when he also was the university’s “Senior Male Student-Athlete of the Year” and received the Arthur Ashe Regional Sportsmanship award.

He also is second all-time in singles wins for the school.

Matteo Berrettini (ITA), 23

report

There are few Italian players who have broken through in recent years.

Notably, we’re thinking of 2018 French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato. The 26-year-old not only has backed up his semifinal effort at Roland Garros last year (at No. 72, he was the lowest-ranked player in the final four in years, and defeated Novak Djokovic along the way), he has improved on it. Cecchinato currently stands at a career high No. 16 in the rankings.

But Berrettini – all 6-foot-5 of him – could be a good one, too.

The Rome native hit his career high of No. 46 back in February, and currently stands at No. 54.

He reached his first ATP Tour final, and won his first title, on clay in Gstaad last summer.

Berrettinin was a semifinalist indoors in Sofia, Bulgaria in February, beating Karen Khachanov and Fernando Verdasco before losing a tight one to Marton Fucsovics of Hungary.

He also beat Jérémy Chardy in Marseilles, and won the big Challenger in Phoenix, Arizona held the second week of Indian Wells.

Jennifer Brady (USA), 24

 

Dokic

The former UCLA player will made her Fed Cup debut for the USA, next weekend in San Antonio, Texas against Switzerland.

At No. 78 in singles and No. 49 in doubles, Brady is a versatile athlete who may well become an even better tennis player as she gets older and with more experience.

She had never even played the main draw of a Grand Slam event until the 2017 Australian Open. And she got to the fourth round there.

Her career high in singles was No. 60 in Oct. 2017.

Over the winter, Brady got to the third round in Dubai, the final of the Indian Wells Challenger before the main event, and the third round of Indian Wells proper. She lost to Ashleigh Barty there.

In her freshman year at UCLA in 2014, she helped the squad win the Division I women’s national championship in Athens, Georgia.

No Serena, but strong US squad for Fed Cup

 

Fernando Meligeni (BRA), 48

Meligeni was top-25 back in 1999 and won three titles, all on clay.

3414.meligeni Tennis birthdays April 12, 2011He also, years ago, was in some rather elite company.

According to the ATP Tour website, the lefthander was one of only five active players at the time to have finished in the top 100 for the previous 10 straight years.

Sampras let the pack with 15; the others were Wayne Ferreira (12), Todd Martin (11) and Jonas Bjorkman (10).

Juan Pablo Brzezicki (ARG), 37

Brzezicki broke into the top 100 in both singles in doubles.

But the Argentine wrapped things up in early 2012 on the clay-court circuit in South America, before his 30th birthday.

We’ll always remember him for one moment – when he and equally average-sized Argentine Agustin Calleri took the court in Australia in 2008.

They looked across the net, and saw 6-foot-10 John Isner and 6-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic.

KarlovicIsner-Brzezicki-Calleri_new

They beat them, too, in straight sets.

It was an epic David and Goliath moment.

Brzezicki got to the third round of the 2007 French Open as a qualifier.

These days, he has a tennis academy in Buenos Aires. And he was the coach of countryman Nicolas Kicker when he broke into the top 100. That, of course, was before his suspension for match-fixing.

Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 1, 2019

Gabriela Dabrowski (CAN), 27

It’s not been a vintage year for Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Yifan (Julie) Xu.

Still, they’re tied at No. 15 in the WTA Tour doubles rankings. They made the semifinals at Indian Wells and the quarters in Miami.

Both times, they lost to the Sunshine Double(s) champs, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka.

Xu has been dealing with some injuries, mainly her back. So you hope that by the time the busy spring and summer season roll around, they’ll be back to full strength.

She earned three of her eight career WTA Tour titles in 2018 (two with Xu, and one with Jelena Ostapenko). Dabrowski also claims three mixed doubles titles: the 2018 Australian Open and Roland Garros with Mate Pavic of Croatia, and the 2017 French Open with Rohan Bopanna.

Dabrowski’s next event will likely put her over the $2 million mark in career earnings. Which is a nice number for a player who makes her living playing women’s doubles.

But that success has forced her to all but abandon her singles career. It’s a first-world problem to have. But Dabrowski was and is a fine singles player. 

If you’ve watched her Fed Cup teammate Bianca Andreescu over the last month, you get a sense of what she can do on the singles court. The only thing missing might be a little putaway power from the baseline. But that’s more a matter of confidence than ability.

The new ITF Tour has made it all but impossible for her to try to squeeze in some singles, with her current ranking of No. 401. She actually has more opportunities filling empty spots in the qualifying at the WTA events she plays.

But she’s at it this week, at a $80K ITF tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Dabrowski
Timea Babos and Gabriela Dabrowski lost in the 2010 Australian Open junior doubles final. But they have outpaced their conquerors on the pro tour by a fair margin. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As a junior, Dabrowski won the Orange Bowl in 2009, beating Kristina Mladenovic in the final. She reached the doubles final a month later at the Australian Open juniors with Timea Babos.

6201.geniesmall Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011
Dabrowski and Genie Bouchard teamed up at the US Open juniors, matching bandannas and all. It feels like a lifetime ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

There aren’t many players who have won the Les Petits As event and the Orange Bowl. But Dabrowski was one of them.

She came along perhaps a little too early for the much-vaunted Tennis Canada high-performance program to help her.

Were she to do those sorts of things these days, the help and support would have been off the charts (under certain conditions, of course).

On the personal side, Dabrowski is bright, insightful and refreshingly aware of the world outside her personal tennis bubble. In her mid-20s, she’s coming into her own as a person, not only a tennis player.

Miroslava (Mirka) Federer (SUI), 41

Dabrowski

The former WTA Tour player is now best known as the longtime significant other, wife and mother of Roger Federer’s four children.

She’s a constant presence in the stands at his matches, although she has put away the formerly ever-present smart phone. (Who the HECK was she texting, we’ve always wondered?)

Federer constantly credits her as a big reason he’s still playing. If Mrs. Federer wasn’t on board with it – and all the logistics involved with four kids in making it happen – he wouldn’t be here.

Dabrowski
Mirka texting mid-match one night during the Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Her most impressive moment was at the 2014 Indian Wells final. There she was, sitting in the stands, quite pregnant with twins, during an overbearingly hot day. It was a stellar show of support.

Less than two months later, Leo and Lenny were born.

Born in Slovakia, Vavrinec got to No. 76 in singles on the WTA Tour on Sept. 10, 2001 (Think about that day … the day before …).

She reached the third round of the U.S. Open that year.

Vavrinec lost in the first round of her last six tournaments through the end of 2001 and the beginning of 2002, and called it quits. Of course, by then, she and  the Fed were already a thing.

But she OWNED Rita Kuti Kis of Hungary (on the honour roll for best tennis name ever).

Her most high-profile moment on the court was probably playing Hopman Cup down in Perth with her gentleman friend.

The two looked like crazy kids in love. But Mirka could hardly play, she looked so uptight. No kidding.


(See, she loved him when he looked like that. So it wasn’t just his legendary GOAT-tential that sold her. Over the years, her influence has definitely helped him in the style department. ;-))

Meanwhile, at 41, she looks better than ever. We want the name of her facialist.

Magdalena Maleeva (BUL), 44

maleeva Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011The third, youngest (and perhaps best) of the three Bulgarian tennis-playing sisters hits double-fours.

Known as Maggie, the baby sister reached No. 4 in singles (Jan. 1996) and No. 13 in doubles (Feb. 2004) during a long career that had her playing in Grand Slam events every year between 1990 and 2005.

Her career best was a quarter-final at the 1992 U.S. Open; but the reached the round-of-16 at majors 14 other times.

Her longevity was all the more amazing considering she turned pro on her 14th birthday.

She won 10 singles titles in all.

Maleeva’s last match had been in Oct. 2005 in Zurich, where she lost to Patty Schnyder after crushing Anna Chakvetadze in the first round.

8233.maleevas Tennis birthdays April 1, 2011
The Maleeva sisters: Katerina, Manuela and Magdalena.

But then, out of nowhere, she reappeared eight years ago, playing doubles for Bulgaria in the zonal playoffs in Fed Cup. 

She and partner Dia Evtimova won all three of their matches in the round-robin without dropping a set.

And that included a 6-1, 6-3 win against the very good Polish pair of Jans and Rosolska.

These days, she’s big on causes, both political and environmental, in her native Bulgaria.

Every once in awhile, you see her at the legends’ events.

Shapo playing for Bruno at IW

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Right around this time of the year, especially, young Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s thoughts turn to his friend Bruno Agostinelli.

And when he (finally) successfully opened his singles quest at the BNP Paribas Open late Sunday afternoon, he pointed up to the sky in remembrance after the victory.

Agostinelli, who would have turned 32 next month, tragically died during the Indian Wells event three years ago

On March 9, 2016, the then 28-year-old, who had become a father just two weeks before, lost control of his motorcycle and died, in Toronto.

Agostinelli had been a Davis Cup hero when given a brief moment to shine down in the wilds of the American zonals in South America.

He had been a college player and a captain of his team at the University of Kentucky. And when he went into coaching at a young age, he was an influence on many young players.

Bruno
Agostinelli, who had a sweet one-handed backhand, never made it as a pro. But he realized early that coaching was his calling. Tragically, he was just 28 when he died in a motorcycle crash. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

One of those was Shapovalov.

We didn’t notice it at the time, but it appears Shapovalov offered up the same tribute Saturday – the exact anniversary of Agostinelli’s death – after he and Rohan Bopanna won their first-round doubles match. It was a pretty big upset, over No. 2 seeds Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.

Bruno

Here’s what Shapovalov said about it, following his 6-3, 6-4 win over Steve Johnson Wednesday.

(Shapovalov was accommodating enough to come into press between his singles and his doubles match against Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini later in the evening. That one didn’t go as well, with Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna going down 10-8 in the match tiebreak).

Situation normal: Venus and Serena at IW (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Venus and and Serena Williams will never forget why they didn’t come to the BNP Paribas Open for nearly 15 years.

No one is likely to, any time soon.

But now that they made the decision to return – first Serena in 2015, then her sister a year later – it all just seems so … normal.

The sisters met up and chatted on adjoining courts Tuesday, with Venus having already practiced inside Stadium 1.

During perhaps the longest-ever ankle tape job (more than 20 minutes), the sisters gabbed. And then, as Serena went through her paces with hitting partner Jarmere Jenkins, they took another little break later, as Venus headed off to the rest of her day.

The moments when you see the two together at tournaments are fairly rare. They don’t practice together on site much. And while both prefer early-morning practice slots, they often follow each other.

It’s just a reminder about how the very best, most incredible thing about their legacy is their unbreakable bond, their sisterhood.

It’s hard to even fathom having two champions of such stature in the same family. And for them to be competitive when they meet on court, to have one surpass the other, but to have never have et it affect their sisterhood, is a life lesson for all.

Here’s what it looked like. 

As you can see, there were people packed into every available spot within even a long-distance view of the sisters. 

Enjoy the pics and videos. Who knows how many more times we’ll see it.

Brotherly love and trick shots, with Bernard Tomic

MELBOURNE, Australia – Never let it be said that Bernard Tomic does things the typical way.

(Actually, nobody’s probably said that – ever).

On the eve of the 26-year-old’s Aussie Open prep matches at the Kooyong Classic, Tomic spent time on the practice court with … sister Sara.

He was doing a little coaching while he was at it.

Sara, still just 20, hasn’t played since last October. Both her singles and doubles rankings are outside the top 500. She received a wild card into the Australian Open qualifying four of the last five years. But not this year.

Here’s what the brother-sister session looked like.

The funniest part of it was that when Tomic spotted your Tennis.Life correspondent shutterbugging, he initiated a conversation. Clearly in a great mood, he was downright chatty with basically a stranger whose face might have seemed slightly familiar.

It was in sharp contrast to the last Tennis.Life/Tomic exchange, which was part of this classic Tomic press room moment at the French Open last year.

(The question was about why/how he played the qualifying wearing Lotto clothing – but turned up for his first-round main draw match wearing … Lacoste).

Sara Tomic and big brother took on another Aussie brother and sister pair, Sally and John Peers, in a one-set match at Kooyong Tuesday. They won it 6-4.

Tomic already had defeated Jack Sock 5-7, 6-4, [10-6] in his first men’s singles match. And then, on Wednesday, he took on fellow Aussie Nick Kyrgios.

It ended … thusly.

He wasn’t practicing that with his sister. It clearly was just a spur-of-the-moment bit of inspiration. And it was good enough for a 6-3, 6-4 win over Kyrgios.

Tomic’s single ranking currently stands at No. 85, even though he hasn’t played a tournament match since mid-October.

Passed over for a main-draw wild card a year ago in Melbourne, he fell in the final round of qualifying.

No Oz wild card for Bernard Tomic

And then he went off to appear on “I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here” in South Africa. But not before saying … some things.

And then he became the first contestant in the show’s history to just … leave.

Celebrity Tomic already “outta here”

By May, Tomic’s singles ranking had fallen to No. 243.

So he did what Bernard Tomic would do: got inspired for a week and reached the final of a Challenger that week. That got him close to No. 200.

After some good results on grass, Tomic won a Challenger in Mallorca during themUS Open. He went back to Europe after losing in the first round of qualifying in New York to countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis.

A few weeks later, Tomic went from the qualifying to the title at the ATP Tour event in Chengdu. He defeated Fabio Fognini in a third-set tiebreak in the final here.

That effort moved the Aussie up nearly 40 spots, to No. 85. It sealed the deal in terms of returning to the Australian Open in 2019 without needing to depend on the largesse of Tennis Australia.

He played one more match, retiring in the second set of a first-round qualifying match in Stockholm in mid-October. And then pulled the plug on his season.

The mission had been accomplished.

What to expect from Tomic?

Tomic had been in the Australian Open main draw every year since 2009 – until last year. And he’s one of the few Aussies who typically has played well at home.

Every single player Tomic lost to in Melbourne between 2009 and 2016 was either a multiple Slam champion and former or current No. 1 (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray), or a Grand Slam champion (Marin Cilic) or a Grand Slam finalist and perennial top-10 player (Tomas Berdych).

But without any actual tournament play, there’s no way to know if the guy can become a first-week story at his home Slam, or a one-and-done.

Love him or list him, there’s never a dull moment.

More baby news: Vesnina expecting

If you assumed, as we all did without speculating too much, that Elena Vesnina was off the tour because of an injury, it turns out there was a far more significant reason.

The 32-year-old Russian is expecting her first child.

And from the looks of the stunning photo she posted on social media Monday, it’s a work well in progress.

Vesnina will celebrate her third wedding anniversary with husband Pavel Tabuntsov next month, as the clock ticks down.

Here she is talking about it, in an interview on the WTA website.

Still ranked No. 10 in doubles, Vesnina’s singles ranking has tumbled to No. 96 as she’s been off the WTA Tour since losing in the first round of the French Open to Bernarda Pera.

When doubles partner Ekaterina Makarova started teaming up with other players immediately after the pair won the big Madrid event together, the assumption was that they somehow had broken up and were seeing other people.

It turned out there was a long-term project brewing.

Vesnina played in Paris with Jelena Ostapenko, losing in the first round.

And that, until further notice, is it!

No news on when the baby is due, or whether it’s a boy or girl.

It’s the second WTA Tour baby announcement in 24 hours, as retired star Martina Hingis had news of her own on her 38th birthday Sunday.

Martina Hingis knitting (pink) baby booties

Martina Hingis knitting (pink) baby booties

No, we don’t mean actually knitting the booties.

You leave that stuff to the future grandmothers, right?

But Martina Hingis celebrated her 38th birthday by announcing that, just two months after her wedding to physician Harry Leemann, the couple is expecting their first child.

From the baby gear Hingis posted on social media, it’s got to be a girl!

Clearly, she didn’t let any early-stage morning sickness stop her a the US Open.

Hingis practiced with old doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova and hit the social circuit looking healthy and hearty.

And she’s not going to be nesting any time soon. Hingis is due to play in a seniors event in Palma de Mallorca this week.

booties

Hingis’s career – in three acts

The first phase of Hingis’s career ended when she was just 2 with ligament damage to both ankles hampering her, and the prospect of multiple surgeries looming.

She was, according to Forbes, the highest-paid female athlete in the world every year from 1997 through 2001. She was ranked No. 1 in both singles and doubles for 29 weeks, and No. 1 in singles for 209 weeks overall. She won her first Grand Slam title at age 16.

Hingis resurfaced briefly at a small WTA event in Thailand in early 2005, losing in the first round. Comeback over, right? 

Not a chance.

That summer, she played all three disciplines during the World Team Tennis summer season. And in November of that year, announced she’d come back to the WTA Tour in 2006.

She climbed back as high as No. 6 in singles, even though the proliferation of hard-hitting opponents made her task much more difficult the second time around.

In Oct. 2007, she announced another retirement in the wake of a positive test for a metabolite of cocaine. 

The concentration of metabolite found was extremely low – barely one quarter, for example, of the threshold that would result in a positive test by the programs used by the US Army. Hingis argued it could have come from contamination rather than “intentional ingestion“. But with a two-year suspension issued, she didn’t have the stomach to wait it out.

In the interim, she coached Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sabine Lisicki.

More baby news: Vesnina expecting

Ill-fated first wedding

Hingis also married for the first time, to a French equestrian named Thibault Lutin who was six years her junior. (She met him about a month after announcing an engagement to a Swiss attorney, Andreas Bieri. Hingis also had been engaged to fellow Czech player Radek Stepanek in 2007).

The married lasted just over two years.

After that, she dated Spanish player agent David Tosas Ros.

But by July 2013, aged 32, Hingis was back in doubles. She won four Grand Slams in women’s doubles, six in mixed. And when she retired for the third time – this time, no doubt, for good – in Oct. 2017, she was ranked No. 1 in the world.

There literally was nothing left to prove.

In the meantime, she had met Leemann, who was the physician when she played Fed Cup in 2016.

They married July 22. Having sown all her wild oats (and then some!), and two years short of 40, they’re wasting no time in starting to build their family.

John Isner is a daddy

On Saturday, Hunter Grace Isner was born, weighing eight pounds, one ounce and quite possibly headed for some fabulous heights (literally).

“Life changed forever when this little one entered the world … Didn’t think it was possible to love something this much,” proud dad John Isner wrote on Instagram.

What’s not surprising? That the football game is running in the background as Isner posed for a photo with his wife Madison, and the new arrival.

The American is scheduled to hit Chicago ASAP to play Laver Cup this weekend.

If it were you, would you even leave this beautiful scene? So far, he’s still on board.