Lamine Ouahab interview: Arab tennis player keeping passion alive

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Wonderful Ouahab: Lamine accepts the hardships of being an Arab tennis player.

Almost 13 years ago, a 17-year-old Algerian, Lamine Ouahab, beat Rafael Nadal to reach the final of the boys’ singles event at Wimbledon.

A couple of years earlier, he had beaten Robin Soderling and Richard Gasquet en route to the semi-finals of the Roland Garros junior tournament.

He was a regular finalist at numerous Grade 1 junior events like the prestigious Eddie Herr tournament and ranked as high as No4 in the ITF world junior rankings.

But like many teenagers in tennis – particularly in the Arab world – Ouahab was unable to replicate such success on the men’s tour.

His highest ranking came in 2009 when he peaked at 114 and his career has witnessed bizarre interruptions as Ouahab would seemingly disappear from the tour for months before storming back with some impressive stretches of tennis.

After winning a Futures title in Croatia last year in March, he announced he was switching nationalities and would start representing Morocco instead of Algeria, having acquired the passport through his Moroccan wife.

Ouahab then posted a disappointing 7-10 win-loss record in the remainder of the season, which he ended ranked 587 in the world.

He then started 2015 in emphatic fashion, clinching a Challenger title in Casablanca. Between March and April, he won 17 matches in a row, also in his adopted home country, to grab three Futures trophies and make a stunning run to the quarter-finals in the ATP tournament in Casablanca, where he upset the tournament’s top seed Guillermo Garcia Lopez, ranked No24 in the world, en route.

His streak saw him rise to No232 in the world, which earned him a spot in the Roland Garros qualifying. But instead of capitalising on the momentum from his impressive clay form, Ouahab played just one match – a qualifying round at a Challenger in Italy – in the six-week period leading up to the French Open and ended up losing a tight three-setter to Alejandro Falla in the first stage of qualification.

These sudden absences are not by choice, says Ouahab.

“Unfortunately when you are an Arab player, you have a lot of things to handle by yourself. This time, I had to wait for a visa for my wife for over three weeks, so I couldn’t practice much before the French Open,” Ouahab told Sport360.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to travel and pay the expenses, or get the papers ready. Let’s say when I disappear, it’s not voluntary.

“It’s been like this for so many years, so I just deal with it. It’s not fair, it shouldn’t be like this but there’s not much I can do about it. I’m sure had I played a couple of tournaments in the build-up to Roland Garros, I could have done much better but sometimes it’s like this. For Arab players, problems outside the court affect our tennis.

“Last year I couldn’t get a visa for the UK in time for Wimbledon so I couldn’t go. Sometimes I get it the day before, or on the same day.”

It is a real shame especially for someone who clearly has talent. 

Spanish journalist Jose Izquierdo, of radio station Cadena SER, who watched Ouahab beat Garcia Lopez, described: “Watching Lamine play on clay is a real treat. Pure talent. One of those hidden gems of the ATP circuit.”

But Ouahab knows that talent alone can only get him so far. He moved to Barcelona when he was just 14 years old and trained there for many years. He still has the Spanish residency and is fluent in the language, but is currently based in Morocco for economic reasons.

“I haven’t had a coach for like five years now because I dropped out of the top 150 so I wasn’t making money like before. I don’t have a physical trainer, I don’t have a manager, I do everything myself and I can still compete with guys up to No20 in the world,” he explains.

“I don’t have sponsors of course, I don’t have help for the papers… it’s not excuses, it’s just the reality and I think 80 per cent of the players  on the Tour don’t go through this.
“And as long as it stays like this, it’s going to be hard to get Arab champions in tennis.

“I’ve beaten so many good players and had a lot of good results, but it’s never been consistent because outside the court, the base is not consistent. It’s hard to have a programme, to travel. It’s really tough.

“I just need to play tournaments the whole year, that’s all I want to do. People don’t realise this in our countries, they don’t realise how tough the sport is.”

The lack of support from the Algerian tennis and sports authorities was the main reason that drove Ouahab to switch allegiance to Morocco – a country that has produced three top-25 players in the past in the form of Hicham Arazi, Younes El Aynaoui and Karim Alami.

With political tension between the neighbouring North African nations, the decision wasn’t easy but Ouahab knew it had to be done.

“Maybe I get not even 15 or 20 per cent of the budget I need to play but before that I was getting zero, so it’s a little better,” he says. “Of course I’m Algerian, both my parents are Algerian and all my family is practically from Algeria, but at a certain point you have to make some decisions. People don’t realise how much I sacrificed for my career.

“I sacrifice my family, my time, a lot of things. I was a very young player with great opportunities to play tennis. When I was 16 I made the semi-finals at Roland

Garros juniors, I was No4 in the world as a junior. I beat Rafa, Berdych, Gasquet… I had the opportunity to play for France, but I didn’t do it to keep playing for my country.

“But unfortunately, the federation, the ministry, the sponsors… nobody cares.”

Ouahab, now 30 and a new father, isn’t thinking of retirement. He believes the key is to focus on his passion for the sport.

“Firstly, I’m trying to enjoy tennis more. I have much more experience, so I’m accepting it all better,” he says.

“I’m going to try to play more tournaments. I had some good
results in the beginning of the year but I need to get back into the top 200 or top 150 to start making more money and maybe get a coach. I’ll take it step by step and keep trying.

“I’m not thinking about retirement at all right now. I’ve gone through so much and for me it doesn’t matter if I’m ranked 5000 or top 20. I will keep playing as long as I’m enjoying it.”

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Andy Murray survives injury scare to make Wimbledon last 16

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Andy Murray will take on giant Ivo Karlovic in the last 16.

Andy Murray survived a shoulder injury scare to make the Wimbledon last 16 with a 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 win over Italy's Andreas Seppi.

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Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, required a medical time-out for treatment on his right shoulder after dropping the first game of the fourth set. But the world number three then reeled off six games in succession to set up a clash against Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic for a place in the quarter-finals.

Third seed Murray raced through the first two sets before 31-year-old Seppi called for treatment on his right ankle. It worked wonders for the 25th seed, who captured the third set and was a break to the good in the fourth.

But Murray was revived by his shoulder treatment and swept through the remaining six games, taking victory on his 10th ace, having also hit 32 winners.

"The shoulder is fine. You probably saw towards the end of the second set it tightened up next to the shoulder blade," said Murray. "The trainer came out and manipulated my back. He gave it a few good cracks.

"It's a 90 kilo guy lying on top of me so it's not that pleasant." He added: "The way I finished the match is how I want to play the rest of the way."

Murray will take a 5-0 career record into his with 36-year-old Karlovic, who has hit an intimidating 136 aces in three rounds so far.

"It will be a very different match from today. Ivo is going to be coming to the net a lot," said Murray. "He's served very well so my returns will have to be on if I want to get through that one."

Karlovic became the oldest man in 39 years to reach the last 16 when he beat French 13th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The 36-year-old giant fired 41 aces in a 7-6 (7/3), 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (11/9) win.

Elsewhere, 2010 runner-up Tomas Berdych, the Czech sixth seed, saw off Spain's Pablo Andujar 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7/3). He next faces either Gilles Simon or Gael Monfils.

Seven-time champion Roger Federer defeated big-serving Australian Sam Groth 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2. The 33-year-old Swiss, chasing an 18th major title, will next face Spanish 20th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

US Open champion Marin Cilic took just two games to see off John Isner after returning to finish their third round match poised at 10-10 in the final set. He next faces wildcard Denis Kudla, the last American man in the tournament.

Viktor Troicki halted Dustin Brown's Wimbledon fairytale and goes on to face Canada's Vasek Pospisil, who beat British wildcard James Ward. 

It is the 29-year-old Serb's first last-16 run at Wimbledon since 2012 and his best performance at a Grand Slam since returning from a 12-month drugs ban in July last year.

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Jankovic ecstatic to reach Wimbledon fourth for first time since 2010

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Jelena Jankovic will take on Agnieszka Radwanska in the last-16.

Jelena Jankovic can’t stop smiling and with good reason.

One minute she is down a set and a break to defending champion Petra Kvitova and just two games away from exiting the tournament and the next she is in the Wimbledon fourth round for the first time since 2010 having completed a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 over the world No2.

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The Serbian ex-world No1 handed Kvitova her earliest defeat at Wimbledon in six years to set up a last 16 clash with former runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska.

“I cannot stop smiling. I'm really, really happy. I don't know how to explain. It's a really big win for me, especially playing on Centre Court against a two-time champion, Wimbledon champion. It's really amazing,” said the 30-year-old Jankovic.

“I was just happy to be playing and competing on grass. Grass is not my favourite surface. And Petra plays so well on it.

“I'm glad I was able to stay strong and positive. I was down a set and a break in the second. I was able to just stay calm. I just played one point at a time and held my ground and won that second set. After that I knew I could do it. I was fighting. I was very brave at the end. And here I am. Unbelievable.”

For a set and a half, Kvitova was undisputedly the better player. The Czech had dropped just three games in her first two matches and when she went up 6-3, 4-2 over Jankovic, no one would have bet against her.

But Jankovic suddenly found her rhythm and started fighting back. Kvitova had no answers on the court and didn’t have much in press afterwards.

“Tough to explain. If I know what happened, I going to tell you,” said a bewildered Kvitova.

“But really I'm not really sure what happened out there. I was kind of up in the second set. Suddenly I felt like she's coming back, playing a little bit aggressive.

“Suddenly from my side, I didn't have answer for it. My serve didn't help me at all this time, as well.  I was really struggling with each shot which I played.”

After Jankovic drew level to force a decider, the pair were neck and neck moving forward.

With Jankovic serving at 4-4, 15-30, Kvitova was in a winning position in a rally but decided to stop midway and challenge. 

Hawk-Eye showed that Jankovic’s ball had touched the outside of the line and Kvitova lost the point and the game to put herself in the tough position to serve to stay in the match.

The Czech crumbled under the pressure as she lost on her first match point, netting a forehand to crash out of the tournament. Jankovic fell to the ground in disbelief, knowing she pulled off a remarkable upset. Kvitova admits losing after playing so well is a tough pill to swallow.

The 25-year-old said: “This is tougher for sure, in kind of this tournament that is special for me. It's not easy to go away. I think it's going to take me few days, few weeks maybe. But that's how it is. It's tennis. I'm still human. I'm not a robot. But I wishing better result for sure.”

Elsewhere, Danish fifth seed Wozniacki reached the last 16 for the fourth time with a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 win over Italy's Camila Giorgi.

The former world number one will face Spain's Garbine Muguruza after the 20th seed shocked 2012 semi-finalist Angelique Kerber 7-6 (14/12), 1-6, 6-2.

Romania's Monica Niculescu also made the last 16 for the first time, beating Czech world number 134 Kristyna Pliskova 6-3, 7-5. She will face Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky who put out 2013 runner-up Sabine Lisicki 6-3, 6-2 to book a spot in the last 16.

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