The Tennis Curmudgeon

The Next Phenom – Part 2
January 30, 2011, 7:33 pm
Filed under: Tennis, The Tennis Curmudgeon | Tags: , ,

Okay, my friends. We are back with the story of Jerhkinov. The delay in the story was a result of legal actions taken by people associated with the Jherkinov camp. Libel action was threatened if we published our original piece. Our attorneys negotiated with the offended camps of what we could print without us getting into trouble. It is as follows from where we left off—me being told about this phenom in juniors by an old tennis commentator (who for legal reasons we cannot mention either, but his first name rhymes with Spud).

I turned to see this Jherkinov guy. He was about 6’2”, bearded, shaggy hair, somewhere in his late 30’s or early 40’s, and was one of those guys who looked sad even when smiling. There was a sadness about his eyes when he smiled and greeted me by sticking out a big bear paw of a hand. I shook hands with him and felt a rough palm where a tennis racket would fit.

“YOU’RE Jherkinov?” I said, a little excited to know who this guy was. “I’ve never heard of you.” And I heard the old timer Spud whisper behind me, “See! I told you he was for real!”

“Yes. I know, many people don’t know me.”
“Well, can we sit down somewhere and talk?”

And we walked our of the player’s lounge area towards the concession area for a drink. On the way, I asked him to tell me his background and why he never made it out of juniors if he was that good. And he did.

Jherkinov was born in St. Petersburg to a family of Russian athletes. His father was a former Olympic wrestler for the Soviet team and his mother was an elite soccer player. At the age of 4, his father (who for legal reasons we cannot identify) moved the family to Moscow to take on an administrative position with the Olympic training apparatchik of the old Soviet system. Sergei’s older brother by four years, Antonin, was interested in hockey and the younger Sergei would mimic his older brother when playing with Antonin’s hockey sticks. It was then that his father noticed good hand-eye coordination in the barely 4 years old Sergei. Instead of playing hockey like his older brother, Sergei’s fate was sealed by his father. The father decided then and there that little Sergei would be a tennis player.

“I hated it,” Jherkinov told me. “From when I was that little, I was scarred already in my mind. My father meant well but he became too obsessive in pushing me and Antonin to excel.” He went on to recount that his father had jury rigged a tennis ball machine to rapid fire tennis balls at the diminutive Jherkinov—at the age of six, mind you—in an attempt to perfect grace under pressure and to learn how to hit ground strokes without thinking. But Jherkinov conceded that it did enable him to hit returns with great accuracy down the line and that his father pushed him to perfect skills at such a young age that it got him into the Soviet academy at the age of eight. It was there that Jherkinov would run into his life long nemesis, Stroginoff, another student at the academy.

NEXT: The Soviet Tennis Academy


1 Comment so far
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Wow, what a sad but beautifully told story. The image of Sergi’s big hand, sans racket, is powerful. I was on the edge of my seat!

Comment by nancykhicks

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