Poker continues to grow in popularity around the world, with not just everyday people getting in on the action but also more and more top athletes and celebrities turning up at the poker tables playing games like Texas Holdem. Football and baseball players such as Alex Rodriguez, Teddy Sheringham, and Tony Cascarino might grab the headlines as far as athletes trying their hand at poker but tennis has its own stars at the felt as well, headlined by Boris Becker and Vince Van Patten.
Becker is by far the highest profile tennis star to take up poker and has been sponsored by PokerStars — the largest online poker site in the world — to play in several major poker tournaments around the world. Unlike some celebrities and other athletes who turn up to have fun and don’t take the game seriously, Becker is just as competitive at poker as he was at tennis, working to improve his poker game and more than holding his own versus the world’s top players. His best result was winning just over $40,000 in 2009 at the World Poker Tour Championship event at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and he’s had several other cashes on the European Poker Tour as well.
Van Patten is better known as an actor and commentator for the World Poker Tour televised events but he was the ATP rookie of the year in 1979, rising as high as 26th in the world in singles. He began playing poker at a very early age — taught by his famous father Dick Van Patten — and has cashed in several World Series of Poker events, including winning over $100,000 at the 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event.
Patrik Antonius’ little-known professional tennis career was a brief one but he’s one of the top poker players in the world, profiled at PokerJunkie.com and other sites due to his love for high stakes games both online and offline. Antonius has won millions of dollars in some of the biggest high stakes cash games ever played and has won nearly $5 million in lifetimes winnings on the poker tournament circuit.
Another former No. 1, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, joined the poker circuit once his tennis playing days were done. “He always liked it,” Marat Safin said of his countryman’s poker interests. “He always liked the casino. He always been a player. Also in the court he was a very smart player, he achieved a lot. For him, it’s just coming in the blood. He feels it and he feels like a player and he likes it. So why not? He has enough money to play.”
And it’s no surprise, tennis players have money and they love the mental competition at the card table.
Among the current crop of players, Caroline Wozniacki was once rumored to have dated poker star Gus Hansen while Andy Roddick, James Blake and Gael Monfils have spent time at the casino tables. And next week in Memphis, the players will again have to opportunity to play.
Former US Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri once spoke about top American tennis poker players. “I think (Roddick) bluffs a little bit too much. Mardy bluffs. James kind of plays more percentages. I’m kind of pretty erratic. You never know what’s gonna come with me. All keeps us on our toes.”
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