Former pro Tony Mmoh sat in the stands at Court John Harris Tuesday as he watched his son, Michael Mmoh, nearly three hours into his second-round clash against Hubert Hurkacz at the Mubadala Citi DC Open. After letting slip an opportunity to close out the match in straight sets, the younger Mmoh was deep in a final-set tie-break, leading 4/3. He danced around a backhand, desperate to hit a forehand under the utmost pressure.
Not only did Mmoh do so successfully — ending up at the side wall in the process — he eventually won the point to secure the critical mini break that he did not relinquish, advancing to the third round.
“He even just ran into the wall to hit a ball. That was just awesome to see. I was so impressed. I mean, it was just mind-boggling,” the elder Mmoh told ATPTour.com. “He literally ran into the wall to return a ball. Determination, that’s guts. I was just taken aback. I was like, ‘Whoa, that is the new Michael.’”
It has been a breakthrough season for Mmoh, who has been opportunistic to claim some of the biggest wins of his career. It started in Melbourne at the Australian Open, where the American lost in the final round of qualifying. He booked a flight home and was watching an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his room when he was called to site to potentially claim a place in the main draw.
“He was lucky in Australia to get into the main draw, and just being lucky, he decided to take advantage of that, too. He was just there having fun,” Mmoh said. “That’s what I want to see him do more, just have fun. I think when you relax a little bit more, you can start playing great tennis. And that’s what is happening now. Even in addition to hard work as well.”
All seemed to be going well when Mmoh maintained his momentum to make the Delray Beach quarter-finals. But after suffering a leg injury during a match against Tommy Paul in Acapulco, the American did not compete again until Roland Garros.
“There’s no way he could have avoided that. But when you come out of injury, you tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself, because you really want to perform again and sometimes it’s hard,” Mmoh said. “But I think right now, we’re now getting him to have the right feelings, to know that he is supported by everyone, and we’re there for him the whole time.”
At Wimbledon, Mmoh again fell in the final round of qualifying and received a lucky loser spot. He upset Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round, a victory his father credits to his work leading into the tournament.
“Whatever it takes to get ready, he does that. For example, before Wimbledon he did not take a day off for about 10 days. We were down in Florida, really horrible conditions, just working, training,” Mmoh said. “He lost in the qualies, but he was playing well, then he got lucky again, got into the main draw and really played well. But [it was] a result of that preparation as well.
“After Wimbledon he said, ‘Dad, let’s meet again in Florida, let’s start work again.’ He’s fully committed, in terms of getting himself ready in order to play the kind of tennis he wants to play.”
The wins against high-profile players continue piling up. Despite missing three months, Mmoh is on the verge of returning to the Top 100 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
“We had a conversation last night about believing that he’s got the ability, the capability, that God-given talent. He is gifted. Whatever any other player can do, he has to believe he can do that too, or better,” Mmoh said. “Nothing’s going to be a given. He must go out there and fight for it and work for it. And that’s what he did [against Hurkacz]. He fought, he really fought for it.”
Tony explained that Michael’s forehand is becoming more of a weapon. The American is also improving his net game and expanding his already strong backhand. But to him, it is more about his son’s mentality.
“Deep inside, he’s so hungry. He doesn’t want to lose, he wants to win, and badly. He wants to perform for himself first and then us afterwards, the audience as well. He wants to perform for the spectators,” Mmoh said. “Watching him, I know what’s inside. I know the desire is there, I know he’s really hungry.”