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December 21, 2014 08:10 PM
Mark_Keil_in_his_playing_days_(2)Toby Smith talks with Mark Keil about life after professional tennis

Mark Keil grew up in Albuquerque, where in 1985 he won the state 4A  singles title while at Highland High School. He earned a scholarship to play at University of South Florida.  After two years of college, he embarked on a pro career, eventually becoming a doubles specialist. He was part of five doubles titles and eight runners-up.  After 12 years on the ATP Tour, he coached at two colleges and taught tennis in Hawaii, Kazakhstan and China. With doubles partner Geoff Grant, he produced in 2004 an occasionally raunchy but well-received tennis documentary, The Journeymen, from video shot in 1999. It’s available on Netflix. Recently, on his own, Keil came out with Journeymen 2. He is billed on that DVD, which is available on Amazon.com, as “The Worst Player Ever to Beat Pete Sampras.” Yep. That really happened, in 1991 – on grass! Keil surprised the eventual Hall of Famer at Queens Club, a tune-up for Wimbledon. Keil was then ranked 224th in the world.  Now 47 years old, he makes his home in Phoenix.

Mark_Keil_(2)What are you doing these days?  

Basically, I’m a nomad.  I hope to get back into college coaching. I took some time off last year to make Journeymen 2. I did it with my own money. A lot of the documentary comes from tape not used in The Journeymen. It’s more behind-the-scene glimpses of professional tennis.

Why did you stop competing as a pro?  

I was tired of the playing and the traveling.  I had to decompress.  My father (Klaus) was ill and I went to stay with him in Hawaii. He had a cancer scare, but he’s OK now and lives on Kauai. I went through a second divorce, which was painful.  

How are you earning a living?  

I work as a valet, an attendant, at the Biltmore Fashion Park, a shopping mall in Phoenix.  Basically, I run errands. It’s a part-time job. I’m surviving; I don’t have any kids, which is fortunate.  I came to Phoenix because I wanted to reconnect with my mother (Rosemarie). She lives here now. She’s in great health and has remarried.

And your sister Kathrin?

She’s living in Baton Rouge, La. She has two children and is married to an orthodontist, a great guy. She is coaching her daughter’s high school team.  She’s got a good life.   

You’ve experienced some tough years to reach this point, haven’t you?

I‘m almost sober. I still have a beer now and then.  Drinking caused me to lose my first marriage and I never should have gotten married the second time. I had only three dates with her. When I was 27, I was diagnosed as bipolar. I had a temper on the court. I could lose 30 pounds.  I lost a few jobs for health reasons.  My main concern is to live a balanced life.  

But you had some success in this life after tennis, haven’t you?

I left college at 20 because I had a sponsor who would back me on the tour. I never thought much about getting a degree.  Later I realized I wanted it.  I won a scholarship through the ATP World Tour’s partnership with the University of Phoenix. I did it all online. My GPA wasn’t great, 2.8, but I earned a B.S. in Communication and Culture. I feel really good about that.

Journeymen_2_cover_(2)Parts of Journeymen 2 are very good: For instance, you were able to get an interview with an incredibly young Roger Federer who then had short, bleached-blonde hair.

Isn’t that Federer sequence amazing?  He’s 17, and he’s just beaten Carols Moya, the reigning French Open champion!

Other parts of Journeymen 2 could use some cutting. For instance, there’s a very long sequence of you and Goran Ivanesevic riding in the back seat of car and hardly talking.

You’re right. The film needed a good editor.   

So what’s in the future, aside from trying to land a college coaching position?

I want to do a documentary on the world’s best “beach tennis” player, Alessandro Calbucci of Italy.  Beach tennis is a growing sport and I love it. It’s doubles played on sand with a wooden paddle and a low compression tennis ball, the kind you see kids using in the USTA’s Quick Start programs. It’s all volleying and smashes and serves. The ball isn’t allowed to hit the sand.

Are there beach tennis courts in the U.S.?  

There are some in Phoenix, but not many elsewhere.  It’s on the verge of really making it big however, I think. Next summer I want to play in the world championships in Moscow.  

I’d like to get into the New Mexico/Albuquerque Sports Hall of Fame. I think I deserve it. I was a successful pro for a long time. I know I am kind of a long shot, but I think I have a chance. I’ve already written my acceptance speech.

Your boundless enthusiasm for moving forward in life comes across clearly.  Did you know that?

Hey, I’m just a stupid valet, but I’m trying.

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