At the age of 13, he tagged a serve at 130 m.p.h. under the eye of a radar gun at the prestigious European junior tournament, Les Petits As. He won Orange Bowl championships in two youth divisions (12 and 14), battling the likes of friends that included Frances Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka. He made his US Open main draw debut at age 18, by which time his name—Michael Mmoh—was on the lips of many pundits and fans. By 20, he cracked the Top 100 of the ATP rankings.

With his rangy athleticism and booming serve, the experts said, Mmoh could very well be the Next Big Thing. But seemingly overnight he turned into the Next Broke Thing, a bum right shoulder in 2019 halting his progress toward stardom.

Mmoh is back on the radar now, thanks to a rehabilitated shoulder joint and a replenished serve that helped the 6-foot-2, 24-year-old Florida resident beat out the likes of Jack Sock and Steve Johnson to earn the USTA’s 2022 Roland Garros wild card.

“He’s got the physique to be a hell of a player,” NIck Bollettieri, founder of the famed academy (Now officially the IMG Tennis Academy), told me recently. Mmoh has lived or trained at the academy (sometimes both) since the age of 15. Although 91 now, Bollettieri continues to track Mmoh’s progress. “He’s beginning to believe again,” Bollettieri said. “I try to help him believe he is special. He has a big serve, a big everything.”

Well, almost everything. Mmoh has been denied a critical element in the early stages of any tennis career—continuity. In 2018, Mmoh was developing right along with peers like Tiafoe, Opelka, Taylor Fritz and Tommy Paul. His results that season earned him direct acceptance into upcoming main tour events, a significant step up from journeyman status. But before Mmoh could build on his momentum his shoulder gave out. The official diagnosis was “dynamic instability,” caused by trauma to the tissue and tendons surrounding the joint.

The options were surgery or four or five months of intensive rehab—with no guarantee of success. Mmoh elected the latter.

“It was brutal,” Mmoh told me recently. “Probably the worst time for something like that to happen.”


On October 1, 2018, Mmoh achieved a career-high ranking of No. 96. Going into the 2022 French Open, that milestone week remains his only one inside the Top 100.

On October 1, 2018, Mmoh achieved a career-high ranking of No. 96. Going into the 2022 French Open, that milestone week remains his only one inside the Top 100.

Mmoh said he tried to reset his “perspective,” but he knew it would be a long journey back—six months of day-in, day-out, dedicated shoulder exercises. All the while, a voice in the back of his head asked if he had made the right choice, if rehab was going to work. It got so bad that Mmoh retreated into wishfulness “You really just have to lie to yourself,” he said. “Tell yourself, ‘In six months I’m going to be alright, I’ll do things that make me forget about this.’ You almost have to lie to yourself. So that’s what I did.”

After Mmoh returned at Roland Garros in 2019 (where he failed to qualify) he was obliged to go back down to the minors, the Challenger events. Low on seasoning, uncertain about his shoulder—“It was always something in the back of my head”—he struggled. Sometimes, the shoulder flared up again, manageable but a liability. Meanwhile, Mmoh’s peers were flourishing, generating a great deal of hope and hype in the domestic US media.

“Yeah, they are exactly where I believe I should be, and could be, if I do all the right things, work hard, and stay healthy,’ Mmoh said of his generational cohort. The friends, particularly Tiafoe, have been very supportive of Mmoh during his difficult times, and continue to be so. He has no resentment. “It’s not exactly like I’m wondering why I’m not there with them. Several things have kind of stopped me along the way. But I couldn’t be happier for those guys. They’re the ones I want to see do better.”

Do all the right things. Work hard. Stay healthy.

The health piece is out of Mmoh’s hands. Work-wise, Mmoh puts the time in. Jimmy Arias, the Tennis Channel commentator who is also Tennis Director at the IMG academy sees it first hand, as does David “Red” Ayme. The latter has been a mentor and coach to Mmoh since the 13-year-old prodigy’s father, Tony (a Nigerian-born former ATP pro), deposited his son at the doorstep of the academy (While not Michael’s coach, Tony is a welcome advisor and presence in his son’s life).

When it comes to doing all the right things, the main area of attention is Mmoh’s game. An explosive, multi-faceted athlete, Mmoh has always been great at defense—at running down balls, hitting spectacular shots, projecting the same kind of dynamism as, say, Gael Monfils. Those abilities helped Mmoh craft a spectacular junior career (he was ranked as high as No. 2) but it’s uncertain that his style will make him a force on the pro tour.

“He’s not sure what his identity is,” Arias told me. “We’re trying to get him to think about that. He’s a physical specimen, he’s impressive as far as the way he looks on the court, but he doesn’t really impose himself very much. Because he’s naturally a defender, most of his movement is east-west, in same old rut a few feet behind the baseline. But he knows that to get to the next level he’s going to have to start seeing the short ball, seeing that when his shot causes some damage, he should look to finish from a little further inside the court.”


This April in Tallahassee, Fla., Mmoh advanced to his first ATP Challenger final since November 2019.

This April in Tallahassee, Fla., Mmoh advanced to his first ATP Challenger final since November 2019.

Mmoh has bought into the analysis. He said he’s resolved to being a “first-strike” player—something he feels he could have done earlier. “I need to impose my athleticism,” he said, “Not just rely on it.”

That mission will be attainable now that Mmoh’s shoulder is better, enabling him to bring the thunder with his first serve and back that delivery up with more a commitment to taking control and ending points quickly. The process is likely to take some time, but Mmoh has plenty of that, along with a valuable store of experience and tennis wisdom.

“It has to be very tough, psychologically, to be peaking at the same time as some other guys in a group and then all of a sudden they are moving up and you’re not,” Ayme told me. “The good thing is that Michael is very much in the present now. He’s very focused on it, and not really worrying about what happened in the past.”

Mmoh believes that his experience has left him more “appreciative” of the opportunities and accomplishments he has enjoyed. He said that he’s learned not to “take things for granted,” an attitude that certainly will help him navigate his future in tennis.

“When you’re a tennis player it’s all about the next tournament, the next month, the next year,” Mmoh said. “But you should soak in the satisfying moments a little bit more. When I fast-forward through my career, I feel maybe I would have liked to enjoy those (highlight) moments more. That’s one thing I learned.”

In a few days time, Mmoh will continue his quest for highlight moments on a big stage. With luck, he will not have to settle for being the forgotten man of his talented generation.