Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stefan "El Fashionista" Koubek retires from tennis

Stefan Koubek

It's never easy to write these entries but with anything there is a beginning and an end, the only thing that differs is the time in between these two points.

Last week Stefan "El Fashionista" Koubek retired from the tour, while he couldn't play Roland Garros or Wimbledon one last time he was able to retire on his terms. He refused a wildcard to Kitzbühel, but he will get the farewell he deserves at the event.

As for why Koubek was called "El Fashionista" this man wore bright clothes before it was cool to do so. Some people are imitators and others are innovators, Koubek was an innovator.

Koubek turned pro in 1994, it took him some time to establish himself on tour and won his first Challenger title in 1998 at Alpirsbach defeating Stanoytchev then losing to El Ayanoui.

In 1999 Koubek had the breakthrough year winning his first title as a qualifier on the green clay in Atlanta for the loss of 1 set smashing Seb Grosjean in the final.

Qualifying Rounds

32 Christophe ROCHUS (BEL) 6-0 7-6
16 Dirk DIER (FRG) 6-3 6-1
QF Xavier MALISSE (BEL) 6-2 5-7 6-1

Main Draw
32 Todd WOODBRIDGE (AUS) 6-2 7-6
16 Michael CHANG (USA) 6-1 6-4
QF Alberto MARTIN (ESP) 7-5 6-2
SF Magnus LARSSON (SWE) 5-7 6-4 6-1
FR Sebastien GROSJEAN (FRA)6-1 6-2

Later in that year he made his RG debut and achieved his best result there making the 4th round losing to Alex Corretja in straight sets. He took out Grosjean again in straight sets for the first 2 sets against Corretja he looked nervous then stepped it up in the last set but couldn't take his chances. Too bad he couldn't face Corretja in the next round who had a very bad allergic reaction and was fodder for Meligieni. He finished the year with 28 claycourt wins second behind Albert Costa for that season.

Koubek started off on tour with his best results on clay but over time evolved into a better slow hardcourt player than he was on clay, especially in the later years. He won his 2 other titles at Delray Beach 2000, this was the year where he reached his best ranking of 20, then Doha 2003 without losing a set. When he won the titles, they came out of nowhere, no real momentum coming in and not much after the wins. That was part of his charm.

At his best he was able to keep great length use his leftie groundies to open up the court with angles and defensively nothing would get past him. He also fought very hard and was involved in quite a few dogfights, he started out with an excellent 5 set record but he was still above average at the end of the career.

Like most Austrian players coming through Thomas Muster was an inspiration while both were left handed, blond and had feisty temperaments there weren't that many similarities. Muster had a reputation for being difficult with his peers (not that I have a problem with him). Koubek on the other hand was popular with peers well apart from Dani Koellerer, but that was a long simmering feud which could have came to blows if there weren't so many people around.

He was an excellent Davis Cup player for Austria even in his declining years he was available to play most of the time. Due to Jürgen Melzer's poor DC form, it was up to Koubek on many occasions to win singles rubbers to keep Austria competitive, though they never won a World Group match since the retirement of Muster and Skoff.

There were a few controversies in Koubek's career, where he got disqualified from Roland Garros 2000 playing Attila Savolt where he hit the ballboy with his racquet ( no it wasn't deliberate). In 2004 Koubek was suspended for 3 months for taking glucocorticosteroids at the 2004 French Open after receiving an injection for an injured wrist. There was no intention to dope, it was to come back from injury but failed to fill out the correct paperwork. Koubek was disqualified in Metz against Sébastien Grosjean while leading 5–7 7–6 4–2 after using abusive language to the tournament supervisor Thomas Karlberg while disputing a call. Koubek said he directed the "Fuck you" at the situation and not at Karlberg personally.

Koubek has been involved in some hilarious and memorable matches, not all of them in his favour. The two personal favourites at the 2002 Australian Open where there was a rain delay he was playing Cyril Saulnier on Court 12. There were hardly any people around, he was being coached by Joakim Nyström at the time. He was down 0-6 1-6 1-4 15-40 with myself and an Austrian friend cheering him on. He was able to come back to win the last 3 sets 7-6(6), 6-4, 8-6. He broke for the match after saving break points in the previous game. Then he came back from 2 sets to 0 down against the ballbasher James Blake in the next round. He was able to gain some confidence and reached his best ever GS result beating Fernando Gonzalez in an excellent 4 set match, then Jiri Novak was too solid for him as usual taking him out in the QFs.

Sadly the other hilarious match that I wasn't able to see was his match with Agustin Calleri in Sopot. Koubek came back from a 6–0 4–0 deficit to defeat Agustín Calleri 0–6 7–6 7–5, where Calleri served for the match three times, twice in the 2nd set and at *5-3 in the 3rd. He saved 5 match points in the process, which broke a streak 21 consecutive games lost after losing 6–4 6–0 to Daniel Köllerer in Kitzbühel the previous week. These matches are ones that have to be seen in person.

Wimbledon 2004 he and Ferrero played a brilliant match one of the best ones there easily, for sure it wasn't classical grasscourt tennis. It was in the early stages of the change of the grass composition. Both guys were hitting the ball well on the rise using the whole court, there was the odd volley done at the right time. Koubek had plenty of chances in this one, it was close but very entertaining albeit not as frustrating as the next and last one of the memorable matches.

The 2008 Aus Open Koubek played two high quality matches defeating Charly Moya and Calleri without the drama of their Sopot match which makes what happened next even more frustrating. He played Paul-Henri Mathieu and really should have won this match in straight sets but somehow managed to lose this in 5 sets despite winning more points, hitting more winners, less unforced errors, having a better break point conversion rate and winning more break points in addition to leading a break in every set. It was such a strange atmosphere for the match afterwards, it takes a special kind of skill to lose to Mathieu when all those things were in your favour.

Koubek had one more good run at the Aus Open after having surgery on his back to fix bulging discs, but the game moves forward and it's time for Stef to enjoy his life after tennis.

He will still play Austrian league tennis, look after his snakes spend more time with his wife. It's not about the titles, Koubek provided some fine entertainment and even better fashion combinations.

Best way to end this entry

Q: Stefan, what happened to the yellow shorts?

A: I wore them so much, they aren't yellow anymore and Nike stopped giving them out.


rhinooooo said...

What a legend. Anna Wintour should have been in his boxes, instead of Fed's. She'd have learnt something from a real style icon.

He was good fun to watch when he went on a run. Hilarious and shocking that he lost in that manner to PHM of all people.

Steve said...

Nice piece man. He will be missed for sure.

Maybe he will get in the ring and fight Dani for charity?

That would be a money-spinner for sure.

Merton said...

Thank you for this tribute, the man certainly had style and he will be missed. All the best to him. Very memorable moments, and the match against Calleri must have produced one of the most colossal chokes of all times.

Styles with diversity will be increasingly missing I am afraid, these are the days of the tennis academy produced players.

Merton said...

Thank you for the tribute, the yellow shorts will be missed indeed. Koubek had a distinct style, something that is getting more rare these days where players are produced in academies. The match against Calleri contained a collosal choke, for sure one of the most memorable ones.

Martine said...

This is a great tribute from a dedicated fan! Very complete, witty and most of all very personal. the kind of tribute El Fashionista really deserved!

Love the comment about the AO match with only you and a friend cheering and him coming back to win it! (didn't know about that one)
And yes, of course I remember the Calleri choke which didn't hurt too bad as it normally would have because a great guy was winning.

Will miss you Yellow Shorts...
Lots of luck for the future!


Denys said...

Thanks for the tribute and never easy to write these things, but it was well done and not sentimental.

Koubek used to go on streaks and when he was at his best almost a wall. Definitely some interesting memories from a character which is missing from tour.

Nathii said...

excellent, the ending even better

Lance said...

Pretty much sums up the man koubek, love the koellerer clip just hilarious, i agree BRING BACK THE YELLOW SHORTS! his unique style on the court will be missed

Marc said...

Great tribute hope he gets a great send off in Kitzbuhel and the yellow shorts will never die.

Rosie said...

Fantastic article! I know it was tough to write but you did it well.
Haha, I loved the ending!!
Good job.

Choupi said...

It's always sad when a player you like makes that decision to leave. I know it must have been hard to write about it but you did it with the honours he deserves.

The yellow shorts will definitely be missed.