Who got next?

leech

Semi-Pro
A couple of years ago, my team faced a former NFL player (who stood 6’5 and looked like Del Potro) at 3.5 Nationals. While he and his partner crushed us, and he also played at 7.0 MXD Nationals that year, it wasn’t like he went undefeated as a 3.5 self rate. He was definitely playing at 4.0 level by the end of his first year, but not sure he will progress beyond that level.

I’ve also played against a 6’9 former D1 basketball player who was drafted by an NBA team. He didn’t pick up tennis until he was about 50 years old and had bum knees, so he will probably peak as an average 4.0, unfortunately.

This got me thinking... how would some of the top players from other sports fare in tennis? I’ve heard of OJ playing lots of tennis in his Brentwood heyday, not far removed from his NFL prime. But it seemed he had competitive tennis matches with the likes of sportscaster Al Michaels; not sure what NTRP level that would have been.

Assume every professional athlete has to join a USTA league in the year they retire from their primary sport. Who are the players you think would fare the best and/or be the most intriguing? Here are three that come to my mind.

(1) Wilt Chamberlain. The 7’1 behometh was a freak of nature, dominating track & field (becoming one of the best in the world at 110 meter hurdles and high jump) before deciding to make his living playing basketball. He had phenomenal endurance (playing every minute of an NBA season), strength, and hand-eye coordination (even joining the pro volleyball circuit after retiring from the NBA). He was 36 when he retired from basketball. He’d make a helluva doubles partner; I’d love to see someone try to lob when Wilt is at net. Could be reach 5.0 as a dubs player?

(2) Kobe Bryant. The 6’6 NBA star was 37 when he retired. He had amazing footwork and work ethic, along with world-class athleticism (his father and uncle were both NBA players). Despite his Achilles injury, I believe that if he wanted to, Kobe could will himself into becoming a top Texas 3.5 player because he is such a student of the game.

(3) Danny Ainge. There are some other cross-sport stars, but I’d like to see how Danny Ainge would do in USTA league tennis. He was one of the first athletes to have played in two professional sports leagues (Major League Baseball and the NBA). Danny is also a very good golfer. His hand-eye coordination, competitiveness, and ability to assemble teams and identify untapped potential of up and coming players (he’s the GM of the Celtics) would make 6’5 Danny Ainge someone I’d like to have seen take USTA league seriously when he retired from basketball at age 36.

Who you got on your squad?
 

socallefty

Hall of Fame
Kobe actually played tennis - Osaka posted a short clip of her hitting with him. His agent Rob Perlinka (now Laker GM) has mentioned that he used to play tennis matches regularly against Kobe at their tennis club. Kobe did not look good in the clip posted by Osaka last February.

You need to have tennis technique fundamentals first before your athleticism makes a difference. So, any athlete form another sport who was coached in tennis as a junior will probably do the best. For instance, NHL great Teemu Selanne played his whole life, has a tennis court in his house and is a computer rated 5.0 who was ranked 134 in the ITF over-45 age group. Zack Greinke (MLB pitcher), Josh Rosen (NFL QB), Tony Romo (ex-NFL QB) and Dirk Nowitzki (NBA great) were all top-ranked juniors who gave up tennis to pursue other sports even though they had high junior rankings.
 
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Dartagnan64

G.O.A.T.
I'd want someone that played soccer and baseball. Soccer for the footwork and baseball for the throwing motion. Of course if it's doubles, I want a basketball player.
 

leech

Semi-Pro
I'd want someone that played soccer and baseball. Soccer for the footwork and baseball for the throwing motion. Of course if it's doubles, I want a basketball player.
Amongst my tennis circle (3.0-4.5 players), I’ve noticed that volleyball and baseball experience has translated to league tennis success the most. I figured the baseball skill transfer was more from hitting than throwing, though.

I don’t know anything about soccer, but figure there must be some world class athletes that had few other athletic outlets than to play soccer.
 

5sets

Professional
If you are a professional athlete and put any amount of time into your tennis game I feel anything less than 4.0 would be unimaginable. As a kid Christian Laetner was hitting at my parents tennis club. Obviously athletic he hit some good balls. And yes, Dirk could’ve gone pro had he chosen tennis instead of basketball.
 

Doan

Rookie
Paolo Maldini best left back in the world while he was playing wasn't too shabby at tennis. He's in the orange shirt partnering with his coach in an ATP Challenger match. I think he is 48 or 49 in this clip.

 
Amongst my tennis circle (3.0-4.5 players), I’ve noticed that volleyball and baseball experience has translated to league tennis success the most. I figured the baseball skill transfer was more from hitting than throwing, though.

I don’t know anything about soccer, but figure there must be some world class athletes that had few other athletic outlets than to play soccer.
I can certainly vouch that VB allowed me to transition back to tennis after a long absence with my serve and OH in tact. My FH was OK but my BH was a disaster. Hence my transformation into S&V-not_dead_yet.

Ex-soccer players by brute force can get to many balls that most others would/could not. This ability is enough to encourage a lot of errors.
 

OnTheLine

Hall of Fame
There is a woman in my district who is a retired WNBA forward. She is about 5 or so years out from the league ... was never a top star but a solid 2nd stringer. She has the weirdest strokes ... but if you hit it anywhere near her that ball is coming back. She is in her 2nd year of league play. Self rated 4.0 ... now a 4.0C rate. Unless she gets some coaching on "proper" strokes she won't move past it.

As an ex-soccer player myself, I can attest that the footwork from soccer has aided me greatly. I think I also have a certain sense for court geometry and percentages that others, especially baseball/softball players don't bring with them.

@S&V-not_dead_yet it is not the brute force that has soccer players getting to balls that others don't. It is that we are trained to get to balls at a diagonal (moving forward) rather than laterally.
In tennis if you move purely laterally to a ball coming toward you, most likely you aren't getting it (especially at net). You won't see a soccer player running the baseline laterally ... they are going to get to the ball on the diagonal, stepping in and shortening the distance.
 
As an ex-soccer player myself, I can attest that the footwork from soccer has aided me greatly. I think I also have a certain sense for court geometry and percentages that others, especially baseball/softball players don't bring with them.

@S&V-not_dead_yet it is not the brute force that has soccer players getting to balls that others don't. It is that we are trained to get to balls at a diagonal (moving forward) rather than laterally.
In tennis if you move purely laterally to a ball coming toward you, most likely you aren't getting it (especially at net). You won't see a soccer player running the baseline laterally ... they are going to get to the ball on the diagonal, stepping in and shortening the distance.
Let me clarify: by "brute force", I meant getting the ball back mainly with movement rather than stroke technique. They have to be able to strike the ball but what they excel at is being able to get to the ball. I wasn't concentrating on the path they chose to get there just the fact that they got there at all where most of their peers would not.
 

leech

Semi-Pro
For those who follow poker, this was an interesting wager between Patrik Antonius and Brandon Adams ($295k vs. $30k bet).... the results were not as interesting (0&1 for the former Finnish tennis prodigy):

 

Chalkdust

Rookie
Anecdotal evidence only, but...

I know several guys that only picked up a tennis racket for the first time sometime in their 30's or 40's, after having been high-level athletes in other sports. Couple of basketball players that played D1 and then oversees, couple of soccer players, and a baseball player. All are now early 50's and good 4.5 / borderline 5.0 players.

I think people underestimate how physically gifted these top athletes are. Yes you need some technique for tennis, but it's not hard for these guys to develop enough skills to get to 4.5 level after a few years.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
It is hard to imagine any D1 college athlete not being able to play at the 4.5 level with 18 months of learning curve. And the idea of a former NFL, NBA, or WNBA player stuck at 4.0 forever seems frankly ridiculous actually. If I ever show up to an 8.0 mixed match and the opposing 3.5 female is 25 years old and says she played volleyball for Stanford, I am going to call the LLC to activate the sandbagging police.
 

socallefty

Hall of Fame
Most retired pros from other sports probably have the good sense and money to get proper coaching when they are learning tennis. They are competitive and will want to get good as soon as possible and then I can see them getting to 4.5 soon especially as they are using to practicing a lot. Unlike the average hack who saves money on coaching lessons and instead buys new racquets all the time hoping for the ‘holy grail’ racquet that will take him to the next level.
 

mcs1970

Hall of Fame
Anecdotal evidence only, but...

I know several guys that only picked up a tennis racket for the first time sometime in their 30's or 40's, after having been high-level athletes in other sports. Couple of basketball players that played D1 and then oversees, couple of soccer players, and a baseball player. All are now early 50's and good 4.5 / borderline 5.0 players.

I think people underestimate how physically gifted these top athletes are. Yes you need some technique for tennis, but it's not hard for these guys to develop enough skills to get to 4.5 level after a few years.
People also underestimate how driven some of these folks are. If they were not just doing it for a lark and were serious these guys would improve much faster than a normal rec adult. Anyone who has achieved a pretty high level of success in one sport already knows the work it would take. This seems to be your experience with the players you have mentioned.
 
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