Merry Christmas and happy holidaze, everyone! The hectic Yuletide Party Season has cut down my Challenger Tennis 12 Days of Christmas profiles to one-per-day instead of two. But I think you’ll all agree that I’m sufficiently long-winded in this one, and that you’ll not be left wanting when you’ve finished today’s feast. So let’s stuff ourselves with today’s ponderous profile, shall we?
Confession: I think I’ve seen nearly twenty Henri Kontinen matches in my lifetime. And I can’t say enough about this guy’s game (although I will attempt to). For my money (and I have very little), Henri is a surefire Top 50 player; and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he were Top 5 two or three years down the road. But it’s not just me saying that; some Top 50 pros, like Michael Berrer and Jarkko Nieminen, have gone on record saying Henri is a future Top 20 player. And they have a lot more money than I do.
Though Michael Llodra has certainly done his part this year to ward off any non-believers, those who still think serve and volley tennis is dead and buried would do well to see Henri Kontinen play. Armed with a huge serve and a feel at the net that recalls, dare I say, Stefan Edberg (I dare say it!), Henri has a style of play rarely seen in the ATP today. With his one-handed backhand, his always-looking-to-attack attitude and the touch at net when he gets there, it’s actually quite difficult not to make the lazy Edberg association as you see the blond-haired flying Finn careening about the court. And though Kontinen isn’t necessarily a pure serve and volleyer – he picks his spots, depending on surface obviously, but plays a lot of S&V on grass – he has an all-court game in which he’s itching to get to net at the first opportunity that his flat and penetrating groundstrokes can provide him. Having to see so many players using “hit and retreat” tactics and forgoing short ball invitations to net all season long makes watching Henri’s game style such a refreshing change of pace.
OK – enough of me spinning my introductory wheels; let’s get down to the resume, here. Henri, aka HenKon, Henkka, Kone, The Kontinental Soldier, The Jark Shadow, Henk, etc., is a former Junior #4 and French Open boys’ doubles champ (with Christopher “Rug Rat” Rungkat) who perhaps most famously was the 2008 Wimbledon Boys Singles runner-up to Grigor Dimitrov.
Henri began 2009 ranked #1,818 and finnished it at #288, accomplishing his meteoric rankings ascent even while overcoming a wrist injury that kept him out for 3 months. After starting his 2009 campaign in March, he was able to post a 41-19 record in his first almost-full year on the men’s tour. Consequently, Henri gained the most ranking spots among all ATP pros in 2009. To top it all off, he was also a Davis Cup hero, winning not one but two live fifth rubbers.
So everything looking up, right? Wrong.