Michael Russell, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills and attended Birmingham Detroit Country Day, recently announced he was retiring as a professional touring tennis player. His last match came in the third round of the men’s doubles tournament with Donald Young at the U.S. Open. Russell spoke to
Detroit Free Press sports writer George Sipple about his decision to retire and some of the highlights of his 17-year pro career.On why he retired:
“I’ve been traveling for 35-plus weeks for the last 20 years. I just want to not have to travel so much. We bought a new house last year and really like Houston, so I want to be able to not travel so many weeks out of the year.
“I’ll still stay in tennis. I like helping people, working with people. I’ve been talking with the USTA, possibly working with the (International Tennis) Federation and an academy in Houston as well. Working with high-level juniors and current ATP pros.”On finishing his career at the U.S. Open:
“Disappointed that I wasn’t able to participate in the singles, but doing so well in the doubles was fantastic. Before the U.S. Open, I knew I was going to be playing just doubles. So, I trained just for doubles, and I think it helped a lot. I felt that I played really well and Donald played exceptionally well. He played a ton of matches up there in New York. We’re good friends, so it just really clicked together.”On how growing up in Michigan helped him become a professional tennis player:
“I was fortunate having my father co-own a tennis club at the time, so I was able to sometimes get court time when other people (didn’t). I think it really helped not playing so many hours a day like they do at the academies. Growing up, basically indoors for most of the season, I only had 2 hours of court time a day. I was looking for quality over quantity, and I think that helped a lot.
“At the time, Michigan, we had quite a few great players. Steve Campbell, I practiced with him growing up. Steve Herdoiza, Ed Nagel, Brian Veillette. It was nice to play with some of the older guys, which made me better as well.”On being the first player to go through qualifying in four consecutive Grand Slams:
“That was a great achievement because that was when I was first starting out on tour. I had to come through qualifying, which is never easy. To be able to do that four straight Grand Slams is a pretty unique accomplishment, a testament to my perseverance and my ability to dig down and battle when I always had to.”On earning it the hard way:
“I never received wild cards, which a lot of the top Americans do today. ... I never had that luxury, even when I was ranked 120, where a lot of these guys are getting six to eight a year. I didn’t get any. I always had to work my way in through qualifying, or you just win enough matches and you got to get directly in. That was kind of my persona. I’m super fit, and I’m going to work exceptionally hard, and I’m going to maximize everything I have on the court and go from there. It’s going to be a dogfight, no matter if you’re Roger Federer or whoever you are.”On coming close to beating then-No.1 Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open in 2001:
“For me, that was the impetus for my whole professional career. That kickstarted it. I was 23 years old, ranked 120 in the world, and I just qualified at the French and saved a match point in qualifying first round. ... I have a match point against the No. 1 player in the world on center court at the French Open. ... It just gave me such confidence and belief. And I wish I would have won the match, of course. But still, it was amazing.”On winning 15 Challenger titles:
“They all have a special meaning, whether it was my first one in 1998 to two years ago, winning an event in Charlottesville. They’re all great confidence-builders.”On injuries:
“I had three knee surgeries. I broke my arm in 1998, and then I missed 10 months in 2009 with a labrum tear and two rotator cuff tears in my shoulder. I’ve had to have three different protected rankings, which means you’re out more than six months.”On what he would do if he could change the system:
“I’m not a big fan of the ranking system. I think it would be better served to have an average or some type of weighted system. Right now it is best 18. I feel players are in the mode of chasing points. What happens is you get a lot of guys playing 40 tournaments a year because it’s just your best 18 (that count). They’re scrambling, playing so many tournaments to put as many points on as possible. And it’s just not conducive to good health, for one. And also to the development of your game. You’re playing so many weeks that you don’t have training blocks. If you’re top 10, you do. You don’t have to play so many weeks.”
Height: 5-feet-8. Weight: 155.
Hits: Right-handed, two-handed backhand.
Local connection: Grew up in Bloomfield Hills, attended Birmingham Detroit Country Day. Now lives in Houston.
Highest ranking: No. 60 on Aug. 13, 2007.
Career earnings: $2,452,569.
Career highlights: Ranked No.1 in U.S. boys 18-and-under in 1996. Named NCAA rookie of the year at Miami before turning pro in 1998. Won 15 Challenger singles titles. First player to qualify into each of the Grand Slam events in succession (2000 Wimbledon, 2000 U.S. Open, 2001 Australian Open, 2001 French Open). In 2001 debut at French Open, reached fourth round of main draw. Led by two sets and held match point at 5-3 in the third set before losing, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-1, to then-top-ranked Gustavo Kuerten in 2001.
Final match: Teamed with Donald Young to reach the Round of 16 in doubles at the U.S. Open before losing to fellow Americans Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey, 6-2, 6-4.