Michael Mmoh, on Oct. 2, 2016 in Tiburon, Calif.
Michael Mmoh, on Oct. 2, 2016 in Tiburon, Calif.  Don Feria—Getty Images

18-Year-Old Rising Tennis Star Eyes the Olympics

Dec 14, 2016

Although he’s named for Michael Jordan, 18-year-old Michael Mmoh is a rising star on a different court. Born in Saudia Arabia, where his father, Tony, was coaching that country’s Davis Cup team and his mother, Geraldine O’Reilly, was working as a nurse, Mmoh began training in Bradenton, Fla., when he was 13 and rose through the junior rankings. He has used a big serve to reach No. 197 on the ATP tour and qualify for the Australian Open. Mmoh could compete for a number of countries: His father grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, reached No. 105 in the world and became a U.S. citizen after attending St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh; O’Reilly is from Ireland and also has Australian citizenship. Mmoh, though, dreams of becoming the next big U.S. star.

On why he chose tennis

Once I turned seven, I really loved tennis. In individual sports it’s all on you. When you win, it’s more satisfying. When you lose, it’s that much tougher. I like that type of challenge. I like the accountability.

On the player he models his game after

Andy Roddick. He was definitely my favorite player growing up. I loved his personality. He was the type of guy you either loved or hated, and I definitely loved him. In a way, my game is similar: big serve. We’re all-around players, we can do anything. I’ve learned a lot from watching his game.

On Winning his first ATP Challenger title, in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 13

I didn’t really expect it, especially since I was coming off [a right elbow] injury, I wasn’t playing that well, and my confidence wasn’t that high. From the injury, I learned that it’s never easy taking time off, especially when you’re playing well and have momentum. Once I got my confidence back, I think my game slowly came with it. Everything started to click really fast.

On his dad

He gives me great insight on the game. When I was younger, I was just using my athletic ability and not really playing in a pro-game fashion. He shut that down and helped me get an aggressive mentality. That was a huge step for me.

On Competing in the Olympics

No question, I 100% want to compete in the Olympics. [His father played for Nigeria in the 1988 Games in Seoul.] It would be a dream come true, hopefully in 2020. I would stick with playing for the U.S. I don’t imagine myself switching [nationalities] anytime soon, even for more opportunities.

On traveling the world

It gives me a broader knowledge. I get to see different cultures, the way people live and beautiful places. I think that’s something a lot of tennis players take for granted: the opportunity we get to travel every week and see such cool places. It’s tough to impress me, but my favorite country that I’ve been to is Japan. Really modern, really safe, the people are really nice.

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