Tennis

Daughter of Dolphins legend overcomes major odds to reach U.S. Open

Allie Kiick (in visor), daughter of ailing Miami Dolphins legend Jim Kiick, hugs Victoria Duval after their match at the 2017 US Open.
Allie Kiick (in visor), daughter of ailing Miami Dolphins legend Jim Kiick, hugs Victoria Duval after their match at the 2017 US Open. USTA/

Allie Kiick, the 22-year-old daughter of ailing Dolphins legend Jim Kiick, enters the U.S. Open on Tuesday as one of the tournament’s most compelling stories.

Ranked No. 633 in the world after a two-year break to deal with mononeucleosis, a rare skin cancer, and four knee surgeries, Kiick survived three rounds of qualifying to earn her first-ever berth in the main draw. Her opening match is at 2:15 p.m. against 25th-ranked Daria Gavrilova of Australia.

Kiick is assured a paycheck of at least $50,000, which, for her, is like hitting the lottery after earning just $3,854 this year. She planned to celebrate by splurging on a pair of $1,000 red stiletto heels, according to a story in the New York Times.

She also planned to call her father and share the big news, but wasn’t sure how he would respond. Jim Kiick, a running back for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins, is in an assisted-living facility near Fort Lauderdale battling early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and suspected CTE after years of concussions in the NFL.

“I’ll call him and tell him I qualified, but he won’t understand,” Kiick told the New York Times. “He knows I’ve been injured, but he never gets it right. He thinks it was an ankle when it was my knee.”

That Kiick is still playing tennis at all is remarkable considering she didn’t play a single match between June 2015 and July 2017. She took a long time to shake off a debilitating bout with mono. Last year, she was diagnosed with a rare melanoma on her back. And, she had four knee surgeries. She spent the time off teaching tennis for $25 an hour in Fort Lauderdale and attending biology classes at Broward College.

“My back is like a road map, scars everywhere,” she told WTAtennis.com. “"I've matured a ton. I think that came with working a regular job, going to school, seeing things from a normal person’s perspective. The job I had was like $25 an hour, and it was hard work! They were, like, five-year-olds, and it was hard. I can honestly say I do not want to ever be a coach. Ever.”

She managed financially with the help of her mother, Mary Johnson. Kiick now trains with coach Kathy Rinaldi at the U.S. Tennis Association facility just outside of Orlando in Lake Nona.

“Kathy just knows my personality so well,” Kiick said. “She knows how to deal with me when I’m stressed and things aren’t going my way. That's really helped me tremendously.”

Kiick’s reached the U.S. Open main draw with a qualifying victory Friday over her close friend and frequent training partner Victoria Duval, a Miami-born Haitian-American who has also overcome cancer. Duval, 21, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2014. Duval retired from the match with a thigh injury and Kiick leading 6-3, 1-0.

Kiick and Duval both train in Orlando.

Entering this year’s U.S. Open, Kiick had bad memories of the tournament. She lost in the first round of qualifying in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

“This tournament has been hell for me,” she told WTAtennis.com. “I actually was in New York at this time last year, but I was on my crutches, and I refused to set foot in the tournament, so that was devastating.”

This year, she says, she will leave happy, no matter what happens Tuesday.

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