Move over Taylor, Frances, and Reilly…make room for Michael.
Michael Mmoh, a talented teenager who grew up in Temple Hills, Md., emphatically declared his emergence as another young black American on the rise in professional tennis with a victory at the Nov. 13 Knoxville Challenger, a second-tier ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) event.
Mmoh beat Peter Polansky, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1, to claim his first ATP Challenger Tour championship and climb 64 spots in the rankings to No. 204. He collected 80 ranking points with the victory and took home a winner’s check for $7,200.
More recently, Mmoh reached the quarterfinal round of the JSM Challenger in Champaign, Ill., before withdrawing from the tournament. But he was able to crack the top 200, reaching a high of 197, and clinch a wildcard berth in the 2017 Australian Open.
In winning the Knoxville tournament, Mmoh, 18, joined fellow American teens Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, who also is black and a Maryland native, and Reilly Opelka among the 2016 class of ATP Challenger Tour champions. All are 18 and part of a crop of talent that has USTA officials excited about the future for American men’s tennis.
Mmoh, who turned pro in 2015, is the son of an Irish-Australian mother, Geraldine O’Reilly, and Nigerian father, Tony Mmoh, an Olympian and former ATP player. Michael Mmoh was born in Saudi Arabia, where his parents still live.
The teenager now lives in Bradenton, Fla., where he trains at Nick Bollettieri’s renown IMG Academy. Bollettieri has coached many top-ranked players, including Grand Slam champions Andre Agassi and Jim Courier.
Mmoh reached the No. 2 ranking in the world as a junior last year. He was a French Open Junior semi-finalist in singles and a quarter-finalist in doubles. He reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in singles, and he was a doubles semifinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. In 2014, he led the U.S. team to the Junior Davis Cup title.
Tennis pro Bob Davis, founder of the Black Tennis Museum, had this to say about the highly-regarded teenager, whom he watched train at IMG:
“Quite talented…hits the ball a ton and likely has a bright future,” Davis told me via email. “Great fitness.”
While the $50,000 Knoxville event was Mmoh’s first ATP Challenger title, he has racked up four ITF (International Tennis Federation) Futures championships. The ITF circuit is the lowest rung on the pro tour. The top level is the ATP World Tour.
Mmoh is 0-3 in World Tour competition, including a first-round loss at this year’s U.S. Open, his first Grand Slam singles match. He teamed with Tiafoe to reach the second round in doubles at the 2014 U.S. Open.
Mmoh, who stands 6’1″, draws comparisons to Gael Monfils, the extremely athletic, highly talented black Frenchman, who is the reigning Citi Open champion, and ranked No. 7 in the world.
A 2016 USTA profile for Black History Month says Mmoh possesses “a big forehand, which he considers his best shot, and has the kind of easy power that should translate well to the professional ranks.”
Since recovering from an injury earlier this year, Mmoh has been on a tear. In August, he won the prestigious USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., to qualify for the U.S. Open singles draw. At the $100,000 Tiburon (Calif.) Challenger in October, he was the runner-up.
In an interview with USTA Pro Circuit broadcaster Mike Castion after his Knoxville victory, Mmoh attributed his success over the past couple of months to a tweak in his forehand.
“My swing had a little bit of a hitch and it was too big,” Mmoh said. “The small change I made was huge…Now, I think I’m hitting it well. That small adjustment really turned my year around.”
Mmoh began 2016 ranked No. 405. His goal was to crack the top 200, he told Castion, but after the injury he was resigned to being in the top 250 by year’s end.
What a difference a string of victories can make!