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Robbie Koenig: The Biofile

Koenig© Getty ImagesRobbie Koenig (right) won five doubles titles during his pro career.

South African Robbie Koenig, a winner of five ATP World Tour doubles titles during his career and a commentator for TennisTV.com, talks with Scoop Malinowski for this Biofile...

First Tennis Memory: "Watching tennis. It’s gotta be Bjorn Borg, Borg winning that final in 1980 against McEnroe. Also, Mats Wilander beating Ivan Lendl, I think it was the final of the U.S. Open. Those two matches in particular, really sparked my interest in the game. That’s when I really wanted to be out and hit balls all day long and be like those guys. They were my inspirations."
 
Greatest Sports Moment: "Probably winning my first doubles title (with Thomas Shimada) in Kitzbuhel, Austria (2002). The first one is the one that sticks in your memory. (Who did you beat?) We beat Alex Corretja and Lucas Arnold (76 64). We hooked together for pretty much the first time in our career and it was an instant gel. I remember the best thing about it was the ride from the airport back to Munich was about an hour and a half, it was a long way. And I knew I was going to miss the flight but the cheque that we won was big enough that I had credit for business class. And I paid like a $1,500 bucks for the upgrade, but it didn’t matter. I was getting to go home. I was flying first class and I just won my first tournament. The best feeling ever. (To South Africa?) I was going home to London, that’s when I was based in London, when I was still playing."
 
Most Painful Moment: "Probably losing round of 16 US Open to Paul Haarhuis and Sandon Stolle. I was serving for the match, 5-4, 40-15. Two match points. And I remember, the team we were due to play in the quarter-final was a team that, with all due respect, shouldn’t have been there. It was a good draw. If we won that we were already kind of looking forward to the semi-final. And I remember that first point, Sandon had a clean point-winner up the line, it was just too good. The second match point against Haarhuis – we had the longest rally ever, he was shanking returns, we were hitting volleys and I remember he hit a lob over my partner’s head and I called to my partner (Tom Barnhard) to leave it, I said ‘out.’ I could still see it now, landing on the baseline. The rally continued for another three or four shots, and we ended up losing the point, losing the match.

"I literally couldn’t sleep for like a week. And just to compound matters, this was like the last match of the evening that was put on, because it stormed terribly that night. And I was in the shower with my head against the wall, water was pouring down on me. And I was actually peeing into the drain. I wasn’t even thinking. And then as I opened my eyes to get out of the shower, I realised that the guy was there waiting for the drug testing and I obviously emptied my testing. It was just to compound that, so I had to stay there another hour and a half before I could get out. It ended up 1 o’clock in the morning. My wife was there with our new baby, it was a bloody nightmare."
 
Favourite Tournaments: "Favourite tournament when I was playing, despite that story, the US Open is right up there. Love playing on the hard courts. They were always pretty quick when I was playing there. I loved playing in the wind as well. You know what it’s like in New York, it’s always a bit of a breeze. I always needed a breeze to help me out when I was serving [smiles]. I always served with the wind, of course, to get all the help I could get. And obviously was pretty successful there, made the semi-finals in doubles, quarter-finals on a few occasions. So I have plenty good memories and I love the city. New York City, for me, is one of the best cities in the world. So from that point of view, it’s tough to beat.

"Monte Carlo Country Club probably has to be one of the most picturesque venues, together with Indian Wells. I probably give the edge to Indian Wells now. Given that they’ve had the tournament as of late, and I’ve got so many friends at the tournament, we always play golf and have dinner, year after year now. So the ‘feel good factor’ is really high every time I go back to Indian Wells. Can’t wait for the tournament to roll around after the long break of Masters 1000 events from Paris to the first one at Indian Wells. I really look forward to that one."
 
Of All Your Matches, Which Did You Feel At Your Best: "I played a pretty good tournament in Washington for singles one year. I think I made the fourth round there. I played a match against a young Israeli guy called Gilad Bloom and it ended up 7-6 in the third. I just remember everything sort of falling into place in that match. And to give me match point, I hit a running forehand angle passing shot that is one of those shots that is kind of etched in your memory. And I just remember the crowd erupting at the side of the court. Probably, consistently, for three hours, played some of my best tennis ever. I beat Derek Rostagno, remember him, in the fourth round there. That week, so many things went so well for me."
 
Embarrassing Tennis Memory: "Yeah, I think it was Cincinnati, I was playing I-formation, we’re playing center court, I think it was quarter-finals against the Woodies. My partner hit me in the back of the head with a serve. I literally fell straight down on the floor. Full house stadium. Obviously it hurt but you don’t want to show it. The opponents were the Woodies, my partner was Brandon Coupe. That was embarrassing. To get up and not know what to do with yourself. I was feeling a bit weird there."
 
Closest Tennis Friends: "Probably my doubles partner that I had the most success with, early on in my career – John-Laffnie de Jager, our current Davis Cup coach. Team Tennis coach too. My age. We grew up playing junior tennis together. It’s a funny story how we hooked up, actually, because I was playing mostly singles. What happened was, we were playing the tournament Huggy Bear (exhibition in Long Island, NY) the week before the US Open. We were playing qualies, was looking for a partner to play qualies in doubles at the U.S. Open. He had just lost in Huggy Bear, didn’t really want to come down to the city and play. His doubles career was waning. I had just lost the finals of qualies to Grant Doyle, who’s coaching Ryan Harrison now. I was feeling a bit down. Anyhow, I wanted to play qualies, I had no one to play with. Five minutes before sign-in I called him up, come on, come down to play some doubles with me. We weren’t big mates at that time. He had some success in doubles where I was still starting out. And he said, ‘If it wasn’t you, I wouldn’t really come, let’s give it a go.’
 
"Anyway, we end up playing qualies in doubles there and we went from having to qualify to making quarter-final at the US Open. So all of a sudden, from struggling to make $20 grand in eight months, I made like $35-40 grand in a week. And that’s where things kind of started, of course, as a result, you establish a bond that kind of sticks with you forever. And we’ve always had a – we talked a lot of tennis together, pick each other’s brain. Because we see the game in a very similar sort of light. And we remain friends to this day."
 
Funniest Player Encountered: "A guy called Libor Pimek. Just the way he played and the things he said were hilarious. Ask some of the older boys about Libor. Guys were playing doubles with him, when he got really tight, said, ‘Walk up to him and ask Libor where are you gonna hit the serve?’ And he said, ‘I’m so bloody tight that I just anywhere in the box.’ And he would come out with lines like that all the time. He’d keep his partner in good humor."
 
Favourite Sport Outside Tennis: "Well, there’s two, which I can’t really differentiate which I like more. Golf is right up there, love it. And also I have a really big passion for fly fishing. I love my fly fishing, just the tranquility of it. And golf is a bit like that as well. I’m a big scenery guy, I love the outdoors. Those two sports in particular provide me with a lot of joy."
 
Favourite Players To Watch: "It’s funny, it’s the guy I grew up idolising and watching as a youngster, that I kind of speak more of. I’ve been around the current guys so much and so often that I don’t idolise them like I did the Stefan Edbergs of the world, he was right up there when he was on his prime. I used to enjoy watching Patty Rafter play, I grew up playing with him. Of today’s crop, how can you not appreciate the talent of Roger Federer? I love the tenacity that Nadal brings to the court each and every day. But if you asked me one guy – probably Edberg in his day, being a serve and volleyer myself. I got the chance to have a good chat with him at Doha this year as well. He’s gotta be on there, him and Borg."
 
First Famous Tennis Player You Encountered: "Probably Stefan. When I was living in London, I practised with him once or twice as well. So that was a huge thrill for me. I love the way he carried himself on and off the court. And I loved his style of play."
 
Who Do You Love Playing Tennis: "I love the fact that everything is in your own hands. Not relying on seven other teammates to perform well. If I play like s*** it’s because of me. I put in the work and could pretty much always look myself in the mirror and know that I put in the right amount of effort. I think sometimes that’s what frustrated me about doubles is towards the end of my career, I felt, even if we lost, I didn’t mind it. I didn’t mind if we lost and put in the right amount of work. But sometimes you play with guys that I felt, weren’t pulling their weight, putting in as many hours as I was. And that was frustrating."
 
Favorite TV Tennis Commentators: "There’s a few guys I looked up to when I was growing up – the great Dan Maskell. John Barrett, of course, who was a legend. Gentleman who I had the privilege of meeting him as well. They’re right up there. The current guys – I enjoy to listen to Darren Cahill, I like the way he sees the game as well. Who else…the hosts, I still like Cliff Drysdale. I like the way Cliff sees the game as well. I like the way he hosts it. Has good insights and intricate knowledge of the sport. To me, I think that’s always better than having a generic commentator who does a whole lot of different sports. I want to listen to a person who has a specialty, even as a host commentator – I think you guys call them a play-by-play – somebody who knows the game inside out, who can ask the colour guy good questions, thereby extracting the expert knowledge from the colour guy."
 
People Qualities Most Admired: "Humility. And guys who work hard. Think it’s the right combination. Probably why I like a guy like Nadal so much. And reliable as well. I’ve got a couple of mates, I’m sure you do as well, who I can call at three in the morning and if they live 100 miles from your home, they’ll just jump in the car and be there, whatever, no matter what."
 
Courtesy of Scoop Malinowski,
tennis-prose.com

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