Grant Connell was a media darling, or as big a media darling as you can be in the small pond that is Canadian tennis.
The former world No. 1 in doubles and three-time Wimbledon doubles runner-up had the mischievous self-assurance and bashfulness to charm women, while brimming with the kind of irreverence and jock humour that appealed to men.
Now 44, and 13 years after leaving the game, the married Vancouver father of five has become as successful in business as he was in tennis, something of a feat among former professional athletes.
"Ecstatic," Connell says, regarding his career as an agent for Sotheby's International Realty Canada in Vancouver. "I'm lucky to have found a job that sort of emulates professional sport in many ways in that it's competitive and the harder you work, the better you do, and you get no boss."
A week from Saturday, it will be Connell's former life celebrated at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. He'll be inducted into the tournament's hall of fame with former doubles partner Glenn Michibata, 48, who is now the head coach of the men's varsity tennis team at Princeton University in New Jersey.
"He was my favourite partner in my career in that we were both struggling singles players and everything was new for us," Connell said of Michibata, his first regular partner. "We did things Canadians had never done - kind of living the childhood dream of being a professional tennis player."
He's left that life long behind, though.
His tennis career over at 31, he moved to West Vancouver with his wife Sarah to raise his family of four daughters - Madison, 11, Charlotte, 7, twins Bella and Katie, 3 ½ - and son Cooper, 9. About the transition, there is little nostalgia. Asked who won Wimbledon this year, he had to think a while before answering, "Nadal?"
When he retired in 1997, Connell's $2.9-million (U.S.) in official career prize money amounted to more than any Canadian professional tennis player or (pre-Mike Weir) golfer had earned at the time. In 1995, he made a career-best $515,036.
Today he's generating "comparable" revenue in real estate commissions.
After five years with another firm, Connell joined Sotheby's two years ago in time to sell into a market so hot, he termed it "spastic" in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article about the Vancouver price bubble. Even this year, despite some cooling, he'd made 59 sales into June.
Connell made the jump to Sotheby's as an agent established in the business, rather than on the back of his reputation as the former globetrotting tennis player.
"I went to Sotheby's because I can hide behind the brand and I didn't have to sell myself," he explained. "Over 90 per cent of my clients never knew me from tennis. I don't have my picture anywhere on my card and just my name in small print."
Arguably the best player in the history of Canadian tennis prior to Daniel Nestor, Connell ranked No. 1 in the ATP's individual doubles rankings in 1993, lost the 1993 and 1994 Wimbledon finals with American partner Patrick Galbraith to Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, and again in 1996 with Byron Black of Zimbabwe to the Australian pair.
Connell famously led Canada into the World Group of the Davis Cup competition in September of 1990, in Toronto, winning both his singles over Paul Haarhuis and Mark Koevermans of the Netherlands, as well as the doubles with Michibata.
In singles, he ranked as high as No. 67 and had career victories over Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, Andres Gomez and Michael Stich. In a memorable match on Wimbledon's Centre Court in 1991, but for a net ball that fell back onto his side of the court, he would have served for a four-set victory over Andre Agassi.
Connell first took up the sport seriously at 15 and went on to spend two years playing at Texas A&M University.
"I squeezed more out of my career than I could ever have possibly imagined, and anyone could possibly have imagined, based on when I started," Connell said. "Anybody that followed me on tour knows that I had a blast, had great friends and I soaked up every second of it. When I didn't want to do it any more, I quit."
Connell worked for two years as executive director of Tennis B.C., and even held the tournament director's job at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2006, a low-stress event as it didn't rain.
"Tournament directors drink beer," Connell said jokingly.
Connell tells a revealing story involving retired player Scott Davis, currently a teaching professional in Newport Beach, Calif. "Scott Davis was kind of the ringleader of our group [on the tour]" he said. "I remember he sent me an e-mail once, 'Congratulations, you got out.'
"You got out," Connell repeated. "It was kind of poignant."