ATPWorldTour.com pays tribute to the new doubles No. 1
Henri Kontinen is the new No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings, ending the 38-week stint of France’s Nicolas Mahut at the summit of the professional game. He is the first Finn and 50th player overall since the establishment of the team rankings in March 1976 to become World No. 1.
Just as hard-graft helped Jarkko Nieminen become world-class for a place in Finland’s sporting history, alongside the likes of Janne Ahonen, Mika Häkkinen, Sami Hyypiä and Teemu Selänne, Kontinen’s determination to succeed has also helped his talent blossom. In four short years, the 26 year old has risen from competing in ITF Futures tournaments on the comeback trail from injury, uncertain of his future, to today leading the team sport.
“In doubles, you win and lose as a team so you set shared goals,” Kontinen told ATPWorldTour.com. “I never set out to be No. 1, you always try to improve and string together results to build up confidence. But it’s pretty cool to know I’ve got to No. 1.”
When it became official, the 26-year-old Kontinen was fast asleep in Tampere, a city in southern Finland, in preparation to joining his friend at an ice hockey match on Friday. So it was the fate of a friend to inform ‘Henkka’ of the news that Nicholas Monroe and Jack Sock had beaten Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, the leaders of professional doubles over much of the past 15 years, at the Miami Open presented by Itau.
With the help of his Australian partner John Peers, Kontinen has risen from No. 40 in the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings 12 months ago. The pair has put together a 25-6 record since mid-October 2016 – picking up the Paris Masters, ATP Finals and Australian Open titles.
“It really is an amazing accomplishment for Henri to become World No. 1 and the first Finnish player to do so as well,” Peers told ATPWorldTour.com. “He continues to break records for Finnish tennis and the sky is the limit for him. It certainly is a great feeling to be able to do what we have done together so far. I am hoping this is just the start of what we can accomplish.”
But it could have been very different for the relaxed and easy-going Kontinen, who, aged 21 had two knee, two right wrist surgeries and shoulder problems on the horizon. It wasn’t until June 2013 that the likeable Finn felt ready to compete. Having moved with his family to the Czech Republic aged 15, competing at the highest level, for which he’d been touted, was a distant goal.
“It was hard to take and certainly the toughest moments of my career, being so young and realising that a career of playing tennis in the future might not happen,” Kontinen told ATPWorldTour.com. “Injuries are a part of the deal when you play sport. I was unlucky early on, but I worked hard on my fitness to get stronger, and now manage my knee and be careful.”
As Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer contested arguably the greatest match in tennis history: the 2008 Wimbledon final, 100 yards away on No. 1 Court, Grigor Dimitrov and Henri Kontinen were competing in the boys’ final. It proved to be a high point for the big fish of the junior world. Shortly after helping Finland to a 3-2 victory over Poland in a Davis Cup zonal tie in September 2011, Kontinen underwent surgery on a left knee injury that had gotten progressively worse.
Robert Lindstedt, who trained with Kontinen when he partnered Nieminen, told ATPWorldTour.com, "We all used the same physio, Jarmo Ahonen, and I used to go to Helsinki a lot. At one stage we were both so injured that we were not allowed to play tennis and we did fitness together. I told him in a text message the other day, who would have thought that all we were allowed to do was slowly jog around a track, years later he would be a Grand Slam champion and now World No. 1.”
“I love the sport, watch it and study it,” said Kontinen, who also grew up playing football and basketball. “When I turned my focus to doubles, upon returning from injuries on the Futures circuit with my former junior partner, Christopher Rungkat [winners of the 2008 Roland Garros boys’ doubles title], I had to learn and get used to where to position myself. In teaming up with John, he has helped me a lot with his greater doubles experience. So I've found that the best way is to learn as a team.”
In recent years, Kontinen has been able to develop and improve his game consisting of a huge serve, good feel at the net, a single-handed backhand and an attacking attitude. Relaxed and easy-going Kontinen combines finesse with serious firepower and an ability to focus and thrive on big points.
Today, it has helped him become the youngest player to reach No. 1 since the Bryans (aged 25) on 8 September 2003. Belarus’ Max Mirnyi was also 25 when he reached No. 1 for the first time on 9 June 2003.
TRIBUTES TO THE NEW WORLD NO. 1
Max Mirnyi: It’s great to see fresh, young blood in the game! Henri has shown that he is good all-around player and has been playing consistently for a couple of years already with winning some of our biggest tournaments. Congratulations, Henri, on accomplishing this special feat!!! Enjoy the leadership and continue to promote and grow the great game of doubles.
Nenad Zimonjic: I’d like to congratulate Henri, a relaxed and easy-going guy. He definitely deserves it as he’s been winning a lot. Rankings don’t lie and he’s now one of the youngest No. 1s in ATP history.
Jean-Julien Rojer: I would like to congratulate him for this amazing achievement. It is even more impressive for me because he's one of the younger doubles players on Tour and how quickly he's got up there. Everybody knew that he was super-talented and he's now put it together mentally as well. As good as he is on the court, he is off the court. He's a very nice, easy-going guy that everyone gets along with and very respectful. Congrats to him, and a tip of the cap!!
Horia Tecau: It's a well-deserved ranking for Henri. It's very impressive to reach No. 1 in such a short time being on Tour. Good for him! He's a complete player, owns all the weapons in the game and managed to dominate at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017 together with his partner, and the guy who deserves to get recognition for the No. 1 spot as well, John Peers.
Robert Lindstedt: He is one of the really nice guys on Tour and I am really happy for him. Not only because I have known him for so long, but also because I know the physical struggles he has had with injuries - and to overcome that is, to me, a true sign of a champion.
Treat Huey: Huge congratulations to Henri for reaching World No. 1. He's one of the younger doubles guys on the Tour right now and is an incredible shot maker. He's a good dude that enjoys himself on the court and Tour and he's going to be around the top of the game for many years to come.