Forgotten US Open winner who earned $23m turned to professional golf and poker after tennis retirement
YEVGENY KAFELNIKOV has turned to professional golf and poker after hanging up his tennis racquet.
The fiery Russian, now 49, conquered his original sport – becoming world No. 1 and winning two majors in singles.
He turned his back on tennis at just 29 years old in 2003, however, claiming that he’d had enough.
Kafelnikov said: “I started to lose to players who would hardly win a game against me when I was at my best.
“I just said ‘look, I can’t take it anymore’ and that was when I really decided to quit.”
He couldn’t give up sports altogether though, and initially scratched his competitive itches by playing poker.
He joined the World Series of Poker in 2005 and even managed some impressive results.
Kafelnikov cashed three times that year and earned nearly $200,000 on the tables, as per The Hendon Mob’s database.
During his tennis career, the imposing 6ft 3in star had endured a mixed relationship with the US Open.
In 1996 he boycotted the event altogether, flying home from New York in protest after learning that they had decided to demote him to seventh seed – despite winning that year’s French Open.
He blasted at the time: “They wouldn’t have done this to someone like Boris Becker, and I’m going home because I don’t want to be a part of a tournament that does things like that.”
Kafelnikov returned to Flushing Meadows the following year, however, and marked his New York comeback by winning the doubles title alongside Daniel Vacek.
He went on to reach the singles semi-finals at the US Open in 1999 and 2001, but these achievements didn’t mark the end of his complaints about tennis.
In 2001 the Sochi-born star, who earned $23million during his tennis career, fumed: “The money on the ATP Tour is ridiculous compared to what other athletes are making. I have been on court for three hours today and when you look at the prize money cheque after the tournament it’s quite ridiculous.
“If you look at the professional golfers they can make £346,000 a week for the winner and that is the lowest on the US Tour.
“If you look at tennis players, you have to win five matches and under the lowest level of tournament on the circuit you make only £27,000. I think it is quite bizarre to see that kind of money in a tennis game.”
Having cited the money that pro golfers make, Kafelnikov went on to give it a try himself.
He entered 15 events, including four starts on the European Tour.
But unfortunately he missed the cut every time.
By virtue of having an official ranking, which stood at No. 1,556 in 2014, Kafelnikov was technically Russia’s joint-best male golfer.
That’s because no one else from his country had at that point managed to climb off the lowest-possible ranking.
Kafelnikov has periodically returned to the world of tennis over the years, coaching compatriot Marat Safin at the 2008 Miami Masters and appearing on the Champions Tour alongside the likes of John McEnroe and Pete Sampras in 2009 and 2010.
He was inducted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport four years ago alongside fellow 2019 inductees Li Na and Mary Pierce.
In recent years, Kafelnikov has been outspoken about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He said: “Only someone psychologically deranged can threaten war.”
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