© Ella Ling

Novak Djokovic

Do family connections help or harm your tennis career?


If you have been following the early stages of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (on the men’s side) then you will no doubt have noticed that a couple of familiar names have been involved in the competition. Sergei Bubka Jr, Victoria Azarenka’s boyfriend and the son of Sergei Bubka, the great Olympic champion and the man who still holds the world record in the pole vault and Marko  Djokovic, the world number one’s brother, were both given wildcards into the ATP 500 event.

Now we can debate whether, on their rankings and recent performances alone, either man really deserved to be given a wildcard by the tournament, but in the end that’s down to each tournament director and they just want to sell tickets.

But it got me thinking about families in tennis and how tough it is to follow in the footsteps of a more successful sibling, or of a parent. Djokovic (Novak) has said he would love it if either of his two brothers become top players so they can play together and certainly there have been plenty of instances of siblings doing well.

Tracy Austin won the mixed doubles with her brother John at Wimbledon in 1980, the Maleeva sisters were all in the top 10 and the Bryan twins will surely end up holding most, if not all records in men’s doubles.

So that gives Marko, or perhaps Djordje, the youngest Djokovic brother, some credible hope. But for some reason it has been remarkably hard for a son or daughter to emulate the achievements of their successful parent, so much so, that since 1968, American Taylor Dent and Phil Dent are the only father and son to win ATP singles titles.

Maybe it’s the pressure – as soon as their father or mother’s name is mentioned, the attention is ramped up – maybe it’s just that the parent knows the sacrifices that they have made. Britain’s Tim Henman said as much and many top players will tell you that they would rather their children played a different sport.

Martina Navratilova has resisted long enough; the great champion is now on Twitter. You can find the nine-time Wimbledon champion at @Martina.

Not only has she grabbed that particular “handle” before Martina Hingis – as American journalist Matt Cronin pointed out – but she will also be appearing on the US TV show “Dancing with the Stars” next month.

Hingis was (harshly, I am told) the first to be voted off when she appeared on the British version so there’s a little challenge that Martina will surely be up for.

According to @TennisTweets.com, Serena Williams is far and away the most popular tennis player on Twitter, at least according to numbers of followers (if not her actual Tweeting, which is frankly unintelligible). The American has 2.5 million, with Rafael Nadal next, followed by Andy Roddick and Venus Williams.

That might say more about the followers than the followed but I was very surprised to see Andy Murray listed in fifth place, with a whopping 740,000 or so followers. That’s not because Murray is not interesting (he certainly can be) but because he has not sent a Tweet since September and says he doesn’t miss it.