by Lindsay Gibbs
Martin Klizan just might be the story of the year on the ATP World tour. The 23 year-old Slovakian has been on the pro tour since 2007, but has found himself toiling around in the Futures and Challengers ever since. Though he was the No. 1 Junior player in early 2007, it was hard for the lanky and unpredictable lefty to fulfill his potential in the pros. In fact, at the beginning of this year Klizan was such a non-factor on the ATP tour that he played a Challenger in Germany instead of trying to qualify for the Australian Open. He was ranked 120 in the world.
Ten months later he finds himself ranked No. 34, playing in the biggest tournaments in the world, and with a great shot at a seed in the 2013 Australian Open! This year he’s won four Challenger titles, made it to the fourth round of the US Open by upsetting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Jeremy Chardy, and grabbed his first ATP World Tour Title in St. Petersburg last month.
After a year like that, it’s time to get to know Martin Klizan. Here’s the scoop:
1. His father got him started in tennis early…because he was being annoying!
On his personal website Martin reveals how his tennis career began:
It all began at my age of 3 years when I started to tap at the bedroom door with black plastic rocket and foam ball. One day, when my tapping was really irritating, my father took me out to the court in front of our house and there I started to fire my first real balls without endangering the bedroom door and other household members. At the age of 5 I had my first personal coach.
Martin’s father, Milan, is the general manager at an electric transformer company, and his mother, Darina, is a university teacher. He has one sister, Natalia, who also played tennis when she was younger.
You can find more adorable pictures of Martin as a young tennis player in this gallery.
2. He doesn’t have a great memory. He won the 2006 French Open Juniors Singles Title. However, on his website he incorrectly states that he won the Doubles Title too!
On his wonderful website, Martin fondly recalls his biggest Juniors triumph:
One year later I won singles and also doubles at the Junior Roland Garros and this helped me to get to the 1. place of the world ranking in Junior category, what I appreciate a lot.
While he did win the French Open Juniors title in 2006 by defeating Canadian Philip Bester, he did not win the doubles titles that year! (Thanks to this wonderful Tennis Alternative profile on Klizan for pointing that out.)
3. He doesn’t always think before he talks/types—last year he made comments that he didn’t think Nadal was clean.
In an online Q&A with fans on a Slovak website last fall after his big Davis Cup triumph over Ukraine, Klizan was asked about his tennis idols, and whether he thought Novak Djokovic was clean. You can read the full Q&A (Google translated and not), but a translation of his answer according to a source who speaks Slovak is:
According to me, Djokovic doesn't take anything [dope], but maybe Nadal, yes. With Nadal, according to me, it's not kosher.
The website of course turned this comment into multiple headlines and it blew up in the Slovakian media. According to the Montreal Gazette, Klizan issued an apology and said that parts of his Q&A had been taken out of context and that he could have chosen his words more carefully and that he was misquoted.
Via Stephanie Myles, a rough translation of his apology is:
I would never knowingly without evidence, questioned the integrity of specific individuals. It would be unfair and disrespectful. … Please note that the entire response, I never once used the word ‘drugs’ or ‘doping’.**
(**The link to his apology in Slovak was no longer active and could not be located. If anyone does locate it, please let me know and I will include it.)
4. He was exhausted after he won St. Petersburg—almost too tired to lift up the giant trophy!
After making a breakthrough run to the 4th Round of the US Open and then flying back to the Slovak Republic to lead his team over Portugal, Martin landed in St. Petersburg where he won 5 matches to take the title, including a 229 minute semifinal against Mikhail Youzhny (and also made the semis in doubles). He was understandably exhausted, and had a hard time holding up the 20 pound trophy they gave him to celebrate the occasion!
5. He has a giant, but incomplete, tattoo on his calf. He’s waiting until he gets married and has a baby to finish it!
In an online Q&A with a Slovak sports site, Martin told a fan about his plan for the tattoo that he got when he was 18:
Q: Apparently a new tattoo where it had and what it is for? (Laura)
A: It is not new, I got him to 18 years and bears a cross with spikes and waiting only to have it until I get married and have a child, so I could put the date out there :))
(The above quote has obviously been run through google translate, but is still absolutely adorable!)
But sorry ladies, Martin has had a girlfriend for three years, and she is also a tennis player named Karolina. Though I couldn’t find any confirmation, I do believe this is a picture of her from a Davis Cup banquet.
6. He credits his coach, Karol Kucera, for most of his improvements over the last year!
Karol Kucera is a Slovakian tennis star who retired in 2005. He was ranked as high as No. 6 and has 6 ATP Singles titles. Since he started working with Klizan, Klizan has shot up the rankings and worked more on the tactical and mental side of the game.
Tennis Alternative reports that Juraj Dulik, his fitness trainer, is also an extremely important part of Klizan’s team. In fact, at the US Open match against Tsonga, only Dulik was there—Kucera was consulting through text messages during the tournament. He also meets with psycholigist Martin Babík twice a week when he’s home, and has had a local sports doctor, Vlado Hostýn, make custom insoles for his shoes that have fixed a lot of the problems he was having with his feet and earlier in his career.
You know what they say—it takes a village!
7. He will play Novak Djokovic in an exhibition match in Bratislava next month.
Last year Cibulkova took on Wozniacki in “The Tennis Classic” in Bratislava, but this time, with Klizan’s recent rise in fame, it’s time for him to carry the torch! Klizan will face Djokovic at the AEGON Arena, where Slovakia’s National Tennis Center is housed. How did they manage to get Djokovic?, it helps that Nole's long-time coach Marián Vajda is Slovakian!
8. He is trying to take after his countrymen Hrbaty and Kucera (his coach) and lead the Slovakian Davis Cup team back to glory!
In 2005 Hrbaty and Kucera led their Davis Cup team all the way to the Finals where they lost to Croatia. However, things have been rough for the Slovakian team since as they’ve toiled around in the low-levels of Davis Cup. The Slovakian Fed Cup team, led by Cibulkova and Hantuchova, has stolen the spotlight. However, last fall Klizan led his team past Ukraine by upsetting Marchenko and Stakhovsky, and with the help of Luckas Lacko, who is also a top 50 player (or thereabouts), there is hope for the team’s future.
9. His Cousin, Radovan Kaufman, won a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.
Kaufman was a legendary sports figure in Slovakia, and even had stamp made in his honor. He was a huge advocate of the “On Wheels Against Cancer” program, but unfortunately lost his battle in 2003 when he was only 25.
10. He hates to shop, but he did splurge for these fancy glasses!
Apparently Klizan is not a big shopper, and prefers to only go to the store once a year to get everything he needs. However, he did dish out the big bucks for some fancy glasses that he showed off at the Davis Cup tie against Portugal last year. Looking good, Martin!
10a. He would want to be a police officer if he couldn’t be a tennis player—because he would enjoy giving out tickets!