Parental path far from the easiest route

Parental path far from the easiest route

It has been a tough ride on the court for children of professional players, with hardly a handful making it to the top

Back into the second week for the first time in 24 Grand Slam events, Ernests Gulbis was asked at the French Open if his feats might one day be equaled by two younger racquet-wielders in his family, his sisters Laura Gulbe, 19, and Monika Kavace, 15.

“Hopefully they will not pursue professional tennis career, hopefully,” Gulbis replied.

"Because for a woman, it’s tough. I wouldn’t like my sisters to become professional tennis players. It’s tough choice of life.

“A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you’re playing professional tennis, you know? That’s tough for a woman, I think.”

The next woman to enter the main news conference room, Maria Sharapova, was given the right of rebuttal.

“He’s playing the sport, so how bad can it be?” she said.

Although Gulbis’ comments raised eyebrows, with their focus on women, they to some degree reflected the point of view of many tennis players regarding their younger relatives.

“Sometimes I wake up and think, 'Well, I don’t wish this on my kids,'” Sharapova said.

But, she added, “when I’m playing the matches and I’m in front of thousands of people and the experience that this sport brings, I think, 'Of course I want my kids to do this.'”

In tennis, it has been stunningly rare for sons and daughters of top players to replicate the success of their parents, even as families in other sports — like the Bondses, the Griffeys, the Mannings, the Hulls, and the Earnhardts — have made it look easy.

According to the International Tennis Federation, only four father-and-son pairs have cracked the top 100 in the Open Era, which dates to 1968: Fred and Sandon Stolle, Phil and Taylor Dent, Leif and Joachim Johansson, and Christophe and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. None of the women in the current top 100 had mothers who reached the same threshold, according to the Women’s Tennis Association.

Four sons

Edouard Roger-Vasselin is the only one of the four sons currently playing professionally, and he said he believed the top tier in tennis was much more selective than in other sports.

“In soccer, if you are top 100 in the world, you are a superstar playing for Real Madrid,” said Roger-Vasselin, who is ranked 51st.

He said that even though his father never pushed him into playing tennis, he would caution his own son against staying in the family business.

“It’s very difficult to be top 100, even if your father has been one of the best players,” he said. “But for me, if my son is going to play tennis, honestly I would not ask him to play full time. I mean, it’s so many sacrifices to be like this.”

His father disagreed slightly.

“He hasn’t done any other jobs, so he doesn’t know,” Christophe Roger-Vasselin said. “Life is sometimes tougher than being on the tennis tour.”

Miloslav Mecir Sr reached the final of two Grand Slams; his son, Miloslav Jr, 26, qualified last week for the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time at the French Open.

The younger Mecir said the main advantage his father’s stature in the game had given him was financial security. He is seeking financial independence from his parents, however, and with his winnings from Paris, he plans to buy a car to drive himself between ATP Challenger Tour events in Europe.

He said he was sometimes mistaken for his father at tournaments, even though he is 24 years younger. The senior Mecir was a popular player around the circuit, known for his touch and stealthy movements around the court.

“Especially when I forget to shave for like a month, then I look a lot older, so sometimes people ask me if it’s me playing or my son,” he said. “And I’m like: 'Yeah, I’m the son. I’m not the old one.'”

After he lost his first-round match, he posed for photos with his father and various fans excited to see the pair together.

“Just one is enough,” the younger Mecir said, smiling, to a fan who asked for several photos in a row. “You can duplicate it.”

Copying a photo, after all, is much easier than copying a tennis player.

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