Commentary

El Aynaoui graces tennis world with comeback and encouraging result

He's the embodiment of charisma but Younes El Aynaoui had virtually disappeared from the tennis circuit after myriad injuries derailed his career. The Moroccan veteran, though, stormed back onto the scene last week, reaching the BMW Open semifinals.

Originally Published: May 6, 2008
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

No, it's not a senior tour. At nearly 37, Younes El Aynaoui is out to prove he can still light up a court with his tenacious game and engaging personality.

El Aynaoui vaulted back into tennis consciousness last week by qualifying into the main draw of the BMW Open in Munich, then reaching the semifinals with wins over two top-100 players -- Belgium's Steve Darcis, 23, and Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, 19 -- along the way before he fell to eventual winner Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in three sets. Gonzalez' first title of 2008 moved him up four places to No. 11.

The Moroccan veteran has been sidelined for portions of the last two years with recurring severe tendonitis in both wrists, chiefly the left, which he had to immobilize in a cast for nine weeks at one point. He thinks he's licked the problem by using a lighter racket and dialing down to a lower string tension.

"Honestly, I thought I could still come back,'' said El Aynaoui, who lives in Barcelona with his wife and three children, ages 11, 7 and 5. "I love being with my kids and living like a father, but in the back of my mind … I always had a physical coach. I knew as soon as the pain disappeared, I could work all the other muscles in my body.''

[+] EnlargeYounes El Aynaoui
AP Photo/Christof StacheYounes El Aynaoui reached his first ATP semifinal last week since Madrid in October, 2003.
El Aynaoui won two clay-court events on the Futures and Challenger circuits earlier this season and played a Davis Cup tie for Morocco, but Munich marked his first appearance in an ATP main draw in a year. He was the oldest player to reach an ATP semifinal since a 40-year-old Jimmy Connors advanced that far in San Francisco in 1993.

"Coming back [to Munich] where I won in 2002, and seeing people, it's been great,'' El Aynaoui said from Munich.

The run leapfrogged El Aynaoui nearly 100 places in the rankings to No. 199. He's going to keep playing lower-level events -- like the Challenger in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where he's entered this week -- in an effort to try to get into qualifying rounds or even direct entry into the U.S. Open.

"That's one of my goals,'' said El Aynaoui, a popular figure in New York, where he was a two-time quarterfinalist and played some memorable matches. "But let's not rush. We'll see how it goes. I'm asking a lot of my body.''

El Aynaoui said he works regularly with Jordi Arrese, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist and former Spanish Davis Cup captain who is now sports director of the Catalan Tennis Federation-owned international tennis center in Barcelona.

Mother's payday: Move over, Lindsay Davenport and Sybille Bammer. Alexis Gordon, a 25-year-old single mom and former University of Florida standout, won her first professional event, the $50,000 Boyd Tinsley Classic, in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday, 6-3, 6-3 over second-seeded Russian Olga Puchkova after a long road that included qualifying into the main draw.

Gordon, a Windsor, Conn., native and powerful 5-foot-9 lefty who lives in Gainesville, Fla., turned pro this year and was playing in her eighth tournament of the season. She's a former NCAA No. 1, multiple All-American and a member of the 2003 Gators squad that won the national championship.

After the spring semester of her junior year at Florida in 2004, Gordon discovered she was pregnant. Her daughter Imani, whose father is former Florida and Oklahoma State basketball player Mario Boggan, was born in December of that year. Gordon's mother, Roxie, moved to Gainesville to help her raise her child.

After 20 months away from competition, Gordon decided she wanted to get back on the court and also finish her degree. There weren't any scholarships available, so Gordon returned as a walk-on, finishing the 2006 season 25-3. Gordon graduated in December and is now engaged to her coach, Michael King. Her father, Phil, who has long been active in inner-city tennis programs for kids in Hartford, Conn., coached her for most of her career outside college.

Gordon's performance elevated her from No. 640 to No. 374 in the WTA rankings. She's playing another U.S. Tennis Association Pro Circuit event in Indian Harbor Beach, Fla., this week.

Not over the hill: Bob and Mike Bryan celebrated their 30th birthdays last week by winning their second title of 2008 (and 46th overall) in Barcelona.

Wild at heart: Madison Brengle and Wayne Odesnik earned wild cards into the French Open by winning USTA playoffs last week. The U.S. and French federations have a reciprocal agreement this season.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford

Enterprise and Olympic Sports
Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.