Arab tennis players must stop making excuses and start finding solutions

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Ouahab during a match against Tsonga in Casablanca in 2008.

The lack of Arab presence in the Wimbledon draw is undeniable. With Malek Jaziri exiting in the opening round in five sets to Australian James Duckworth, and the Tunisian later pulling out of his second round in doubles alongside Guillermo Garcia Lopez, there are no remaining Arabs in the men’s or women’s main draws at the All England Club.

In the juniors, Tunisian Aziz Dougaz lost his boys’ singles opener on Saturday and Algerian Ines Ibbou is in action today in the girls’ singles draw. That is pretty much it.

Ons Jabeur, ranked 132 in the WTA, is sidelined with a wrist injury and wasn’t able to play qualifying at Wimbledon, while the Egyptians, who typically play the junior slams, have all either stopped playing or have gone north of 18 years old.

The interview I had with Lamine Ouahab, a former Wimbledon junior finalist, shed light on some of the troubles that face Arab tennis players and perhaps explained why a few of them can do well on the junior stage but fail as professionals.

Lack of tradition, no federation or government support and dealing with the logistical nightmare of travelling were all valid points made by the Algerian-turned-Moroccan Ouahab. But I have to disagree with one statement he made during our interview.

“This is the reality, it’s not excuses,” said Ouahab.

It’s actually both.

Yes, the Arab world is yet to understand what it takes to create a tennis champion, but Arabs are not the only ones who do not have support.

You see someone like Damir Dzumhur – a young player from the war-torn Bosnia and Herzegovina who has beaten the odds to become a top-100 player and has faced Roger Federer in back-to-back grand slams.

Dzumhur was born a month after the Bosnian war began yet his father started up a tennis club in Sarajevo a few years after that and look where he is now.

That is just one example of countless others out there where players are making the most of their ability and desire despite having it rough.

Talent alone can only get you so far and the onus is on the individual to learn to fight adversity and that is often what separates the champions from the rest.

Granted, it is important to speak up and tell the Arab federations what needs to be done but the defeatist attitude that blames the lack of success on outside factors will never get anyone anywhere and, sadly, it is a common way of thinking amongst Arab players.

Ouahab probably would have fared better had he been Spanish or French, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make it as an Algerian or a Moroccan.

It’s time we ditch this culture of excuses and start finding solutions to the problems we face.

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Kyrgios faces Gasquet again in search of quarter-final

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Making headlines: Kyrgios.

After saving nine match points to beat Richard Gasquet in five sets in the second round last season, Nick Kyrgios will once again face the Frenchman on the lawns of the All England Club, but this time for a chance to make the quarter-finals for a second straight year.

– Wimbledon: A review of week one at SW19
– Interview: Ouahab keeps tennis passion alive
– SW19 Diary: Sporting royalty takes Centre stage

A year ago, Kyrgios was ranked No 144 in the world and had to fight from two sets down to beat Gasquet on his Wimbledon debut. On Monday, the Australian faces the former world No 7 as a two-time grand slam quarter-finalist ranked No 29 in the world.

“I just know hanging in is key, obviously coming down from two sets to love last year. He’s played plenty of Wimbledons. He’s good on grass. He’s made semi-finals here, I think,” said the young Aussie of Gasquet.

“He knows what he has to do out there as well. I’m going to play my game. Whatever happens happens. That’s what I did last year as well.”

Gasquet, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2007, says he needs to return well to stand a chance against Kyrgios, who fired 34 aces to beat Milos Raonic in the previous round.

“Of course last year, even if I lost, it was a match we will never forget, me and him. And for sure because it was his first match he won against a good player, I was top 10, and me, when you are losing with nine match points, it’s very difficult,” said the Frenchman, who is seeded No 21 at Wimbledon this year.

Kyrgios is renowned for his loud antics on court, engaging with the crowd and losing his temper with umpires. But it is something Gasquet does not find distracting.

“I have no problem with that. I think it’s great for the game. He has a good personality. He’s fun to watch on the court. He’s nice off the court. That’s the most important thing. He respects the players off the court,” assured Gasquet.

“He’s always talking in the locker room. I think he’s a nice guy. On and off the court he’s a good player.”

Meanwhile, Roger Federer insists he is no longer obsessed by eclipsing Pete Sampras to claim a record eighth Wimbledon title. The Swiss, who faces No 20 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the last 16 today, joins Sampras at the top of the Wimbledon leader board with seven titles each but could take sole possession of the top spot with an eighth trophy here on Sunday.

But when asked if chasing that elusive eighth crown still drives him, Federer said: “Not much to be honest. No, this one doesn’t give me extra something.

“It used to be more the case, trying to equal Pete, and all that stuff like weeks at world No1…Now this is more something like you talk about for a couple weeks, it’s gone again and then you have to wait a year if you don’t do it.

“I just take Wimbledon as such, what a huge tournament it is, what an opportunity it is. Of course, I would like to relive those moments I have done so many times here.”

Novak Djokovic denied Federer sole occupancy as Wimbledon’s most-decorated man last summer. The world No 2 admitted losing the final in 2008 to Rafael Nadal proved a more bitter experience than his five-set defeat to Serbian star Djokovic last year.

“Probably there was more at stake in the 2008 final,” said Federer. “I was going for my sixth, and Rafa for his first. Novak was already going for his second last year. There was probably a little bit more on the line in terms of, you know, milestones, let’s say, in ‘08.

“Coming back from two sets to love, in the dark at the end, it was a bit more epic. But last year also was very thrilling.”

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Andy Murray prepares to face the daunting serve of Ivo Karlovic

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Andy Murray will have to be at his returning best when he steps on Centre Court for his last 16 match on Monday against Ivo Karlovic – a man who has hit 136 aces so far in his first three matches at Wimbledon.

– Wimbledon: A review of week one at SW19
– Interview: Ouahab keeps tennis passion alive
– SW19 Diary: Sporting royalty takes Centre stage

Murray, the No 3 seed, has a solid 5-0 record against the 36-year-old Karlovic, including a second round win over the Croat in 2012.

Bidding to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for an eighth consecutive year, Murray is wary of Karlovic’s cannon serves, which unleashes with ease thanks to his 2.11m height.

“Obviously he served extremely well this tournament. A couple matches he served over 40 aces,” said the 28-year-old Murray.

“In Halle, as well, he served I think the record for three sets with his match against Tomas Berdych. Extremely tough match. I’ll need to be very sharp on my returns and try and find a way to get as many of his serves back in play as possible and see what happens.

“But it’s obviously a very, very tricky match.”

Asked to describe how advantageous it is to be this tall when it comes to serving, Murray added: “Clearly he can hit angles on the court that I’m unable to hit obviously on the serve because he’s probably got an extra foot or foot-and-a-half of height there with the length of his arm and the racquet. So that makes it very difficult to return.

“He serve-and-volleys, too. He’s a very solid volleyer. You can’t just pat the return back into play. You need to try to do something with it. So it’s tough.”

Murray needed medical treatment on his right shoulder during his four-set win over Andreas Seppi in the third round on Saturday and while he says it is not a major worry for him, it is a problem he has had for a few days now.

“It’s something I had the last two, three days. I only really feel it when I’m serving. But it’s not something that’s of major concern to me,” said the Scot.

“I played, I don’t know, 650, 700 matches in my career. I’ve played many matches where I’ve been in quite a lot of pain with my back. That was the case for almost two years. I was playing in quite a lot of pain at times. So I’m used to managing that and getting through it.

“It wasn’t something that happened just as I was on the court. It’s been like that for the last few days. The physios will back me up on that.

“It’s stiffness. And every time I finish a practice or anything, I have my back manipulated. Just now, the physio came on the court and said it was like a machine gun going off when he laid on top of me. Literally my back cracked a lot. And that’s been the case for the last few days.”

Lucky for Murray, he had the benefit of Middle Sunday yesterday to get some rest and get his mind off of tennis. Known to follow all the happenings of the tennis world, including finding streams to watch his fellow Brits while performing at Challenger tournaments around the globe, Murray admits he has been trying to switch from tennis while away from the court.

“I watched Toy Story 2 and I watched the first 45 minutes of Borat as well before bed,” Murray told BBC Radio 5 about his night before his third round match with Seppi.

“Before I used to watch Today at Wimbledon or those tennis shows. Whereas, after Heather’s match yesterday (Friday), I thought ‘right no more tennis tonight’ so watched a couple of movies.”

Top seed and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, the man who Murray beat to win Wimbledon in 2013, will also face a huge serve when he takes on South African Kevin Anderson on Monday.

Since losing to Anderson in their first meeting in 2008 in Miami, Djokovic has not dropped a set to the 2.03m No 14 seed as he leads him 4-1 head-to-head.

“Another big server and somebody that is in great form. I think he is probably playing the tennis of his life all in all,” Djokovic said of the 29-year-old Anderson.

“I think it’s going to be a game of very small margins that will be decided by a few points. So I need to be able to get as many returns back in play. I’ll try to mix up the pace.”

Djokovic is looking to reach his 25th consecutive grand slam quarter-final. His current streak of 24 places him in third place in the Open Era behind Roger Federer (36) and Jimmy Connors (27).

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