One of the feel good stories in tennis this year has been the rise of American player Alex Bogomolov Jr. to a ranking of No. 34 in the world. While everyone who knows Bogomolov couldn't be happier for the 28-year old, a strange thing happened as Bogomolov rose in the rankings. The Russians were actively recruiting him.
In the Cold War era this might mean he was being recruited as a spy or for his knowledge of clandestine military secrets. In 2011, it means he was being recuited to play Davis Cup tennis.
Born in Moscow, Bogomolov was uprooted to Mexico and then the United States by his father Alex Sr., who is a former Soviet national tennis coach. A talented junior player, Bogomolov never could make that "breakthrough" on the ATP Tour. He toiled in the 100s and 200s for years, getting financial and coaching help from the United States Tennis Association along the way.
After it was announced earlier this month that Bogomolov Jr. would play Davis Cup in 2011, the powers to be at the USTA got upset.
I spoke with Patrick McEnroe who is in charge of player development for the USTA at the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff held last week in Atlanta, and a couple weeks after Bogomolov made his decision, McEnroe had much to say.
"He has received quite a bit of support, it's an ITF decision and at the USTA we are exploring our options," he stated. I'll leave it at that."
After saying that, he kept going.
"I certainly believe… I have no issue with Alex personally. From the USTA standpoint, he was born in Russia, he has family there, he should repay the USTA. He's actually signed something saying that and we'll see what happens."
I followed up asking if the USTA is continuing to explore options and McEnroe said, "that is correct."
Bogomolov is not the first to make a decision like this and won't be the last. Most of the time it's done for financial reasons, other times it's because it's the only option to play. Numerous tennis players from Soviet block countries became "free agents" and went to the country that offered the best deal.
In women's basketball, there's Becky Hammon. Hammon is about as "All-American" s you can get. Blonde and born in South Dakota, after Hammon was overlooked for a spot at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2008, she became a naturalized Russian citizen and played in the Olympics representing Russia. "I'm absolutely 100 percent still an American. I love our country. I love what we stand for. This is an opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing in the Olympics," said Hammon.
This is an opportunity for Bogomolov to play Davis Cup, as at the age of 28, he isn't on The radar of U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier or the USTA. "All of us are friends with Bogomolov, and I can understand why he is doing it," added Courier.
Another player, Jesse Levine was born in Canada, but now plays as an American. He won the USTA's Australian Open Wildcard Playoff and says he has no plans to play Davis Cup for Canada if they were to come calling. He also says that he hasn't signed anything saying he wouldn't.
The fact is, Bogomolov will be taking the court for Russia when they play Austria in February. Whether the USTA is actually going after Bogomolov to repay thousands and thousands of dollars, or if they are looking to send a message to other Americans looking to do the same remains to be seen.
We'll all have to wait and see.