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Dec 02

Five Tennis Men of 2013

It’s time to get nostalgic and reflective in this thing they call the tennis off-season and there’s no more cliched and unimaginative way to do it than pick out individuals and highlights.

So here are five men who made a passing, but in their own way significant impact in 2013 like they hadn’t before.

Enjoy the list.  Then come and slate me via Twitter afterwards for the choices.

VICTOR ESTRELLA

A bearded Estrella meant business in 2013

Estrella’s beard meant business in 2013 like never before

The Dominican Republic’s finest tennis player, Victor Estrella, has been around for a long time, but the 33-year-old has been breaking new ground in 2013 when in theory most careers are starting to wind down.

His year didn’t start until April, but it included the 2nd and 3rd Challenger titles of his career, on South American clay and at altitude in Quito and Bogota, seeing off Guido Pella, Horacio Zeballos and Thomaz Bellucci, albeit not fully fit, in the final.

And Estrella rather fell in love with the Colombian capital, qualifying for the inaugural ATP event there, and winning his first match on the main tour by beating Facundo Arguello. It was just his second appearance on the tour, after a defeat by Fernando Verdasco at the Cincinnati Masters in 2008.

That was after a blank spell between 2002 and 2006 when he simply didn’t have the money to travel regularly to tournaments.

If you want to get a better idea of what Estrella’s game is all about, you can watch his semi-final win over Guilherme Clezar in that Bogota Challenger here

Estrella has also been active for his country in the Davis Cup for more than a decade, and when he’s not enjoying courts in rarified air, he’s working on a New York inner city tennis programme that brings the sport to youngsters who would never get a chance to play otherwise. WTA Tour player Irina Falconi is among the graduates. Career best achievements, persistence and such work make him an easy nomination.

LUKAS ROSOL

Lukas Rosol did more than his bit for the Czech Republic in 2013

Lukas Rosol – Two time Davis Cup winner

Surely a year too late to make the list? Well, not really. While in the global tennis consciousness, Rosol may forever be remembered for his one win at Wimbledon, he bust a couple of myths and overcome personal pain to remain relevant in 2013.

When Tomas Berdych wasn’t around and Radek Stepanek was less than 100 percent fit, Rosol stepped up to help his country twice in the Davis Cup.

Without Steps’ sexy doubles play in the opening round against Switzerland Rosol teamed up with Tomas Berdych to win a 24-22 fifth set decider against Marco Chiudinelli and Stanislas Wawrinka that enabled them to ultimately clinch the tie.

Then there was the away win in Kazhakstan in the quarter-finals. Rosol beat Andrey Golubev on Day 1 of the singles and clinched the tie with victory over Mikhail Kukushkin in Astana, showing the Czechs do have some strength in depth.

He also won his first ATP Tour title on clay in Bucharest, doing so 10 days after the death of his father Emil, The two had become estranged and Rosol never got the chance to make peace after he suffered a stroke while watching his son play in the Davis Cup.

Rosol all went on a run from Wimbledon to the US Open, inclusive, without winning a main draw match, but recovered to secure his place in the top 50.

TIM SMYCZEK

Smyczek smote his foes more effectively than ever before in 2013

Smyczek smote his foes more effectively in 2013 (photo: Bob Leverone / Getty Images North America)

If you’d been challenged in March or April to pick the last home player standing at the US Open, you would have probably been looking upwards, both literally and at the rankings to John Isner and Sam Querrey.

As it turned out, it was the 5’9″ Tim Smyczek who outlasted the lot, which helped him achieve his ambition of making the top 100 for the first time.

That was also achieved despite having his courtesy car run out of petrol (gas) en route to his first round match with James Duckworth. The man from Milwaukee eventually suffered that fate on court, as he couldn’t capitalise on a two sets to one lead over Marcel Granollers.

He was strong throughout the year on the North American Challenger scene he and also picked up wins in Washington, San Jose, Newport (beating Querrey on his natural turf) Winston-Salem and Houston on the main ATP Tour.

Smyczek turns 26 in December, has been a bit of a slow burner despite junior success and he makes up for his lack of height with good retrieving ability and a useful cross court forehand. He’s been some welcome relief in a year of struggle for American men.

As the year ends, he only looks up at Isner and Querrey in the US rankings – an achievement that’s good enough to allow him to make this year’s man of the year shortlist. His challenge now is to find the ability to match his performances in North America across the rest of the globe.

CARLOS BERLOCQ

A slightly shameless choice, but Berlocq’s progress from Challenger shuffler with the odd backhand to successful Tour player continued as he delighted fans and wound up others in equal measure, a unique ability for someone who does appear to be a genuinely quiet and modest soul.

Some took offence to Berlocq’s shirt ripping joy when he won his first Davis Cup singles rubber as Philipp Kohlschreiber retired after a draining four hour match where the German retired 5-4 up in the final set. No one could argue with it as an expression of joy after he beat Gilles Simon in the next round in a winner takes all match which put Argentina into the sem-final.

Andy Murray flipped his lip over Berlocq’s grunting in their meeting in the Indian Wells, and he was also among the more regular victims of the slow play rule – if not one of the worst offenders.

But a first ATP Tour title in Bastad, where he outplayed Fernando Verdasco in the final. made it a more than satisfying 2013 – and then, there’s this:

NICOLAS MAHUT

There’s nothing quite like these French players and their habit of somehow not being able to win ATP titles. If Julien Benneteau ever manages the feat, then there will be champagne corks popping in tennis journeymen land across the globe. He even had match point in his defeat by Joao Sousa in the Kuala Lumpur final.

Nicolas Mahut was quite the hoot on grass in 2013 (photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)

Nicolas Mahut was quite the hoot on grass in 2013 (photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe)

But he need only look to Nicolas Mahut for hope. At the age of 31 (which is barely out of short pants these days), Mahut broke his own personal duck with a double of titles on grass before and after Wimbledon.

Firsty, there was success in s’Hertogenbosch. Mahut, ranked 240, ploughed his way through the qualifying draw (where he had to beat Lukasz Kubot just to make it into the event proper) before rolling through five more matches, and getting a merited win against Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.

Mahut was then at it again at Newport, where he denied Michael Russell an ATP final with a last four win before coming from a set down to defeat Lleyton Hewitt.

All of that was done while serving up the dying art of serve-volley tennis. He also rounded off the year with a Challenger final and title in October. Perhaps karma paid him back after that match with John Isner, albeit in delayed installments.

Like the list? Disagree? Want to add your opinions. It’s what the comment section below is for!

 

1 comment

  1. thomas

    Nice article, liked it, i will also be giving goggle hangouts and podcasts on my tennis blog, so lets set something up. A lot of these guys just need to deepen their faith in their games.

    Merry Christmas from kobe, japan.

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