No stranger to springing surprises at home on his beloved clay, Algerian-turned-Moroccan Lamine Ouahab struck once again on Wednesday in Marrakech as he upset world No. 34 Philipp Kohlschreiber, who is 583 spots higher than him in the rankings.
The 33-year-old Ouahab was a standout junior, who beat Rafael Nadal en route to the Wimbledon boys’ singles in 2002, and also made the Roland Garros junior semis.
He peaked at No. 114 in the ATP rankings back in 2009 but hasn’t been playing consistently throughout the years, at times seemingly competing only part-time.
His last ATP main draw match, prior to Wednesday, came in April 2016 and his last Challenger main draw clash was in September 2016.
But lack of match play and a lower ranking were never a problem for Ouahab when it comes to facing tougher opposition at ATP tournaments or in Davis up.
He is used to punching above his weight and owns 15 victories against top-100 opponents throughout his career, most recently easing past Georgian world No. 57 Nikoloz Basilashvili in a Davis cup Group II Zonal tie last February in Marrakech. In 2015, Ouahab shocked Robin Haase and the then world No. 24 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez en route to the quarter-finals in Casablanca. He was ranked No. 313 in the world that week.
Currently No. 617 in the world and competing in his first ATP main draw match in two years, Ouahab came back from a set down, and climbed from 2-5 in the decider to stun Kohlschreiber 2-6, 6-0, 7-6 (3) and reach the second round in Marrakech on Wednesday.
Kohlschreiber was coming off a tough weekend where he lost a heartbreaking five-setter to David Ferrer in the decisive fifth rubber in the quarter-final tie between Spain and Germany in Valencia.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) April 11, 2018
“Obviously I’m very happy to win a match like this, especially at home. I’m very proud I was able to put up a fight and get through it,” Ouahab told Sport360.
“For me it’s a big opportunity to play these players. Maybe my ranking got lower because I’m not playing consistently but I believe I have the level to beat these guys, especially on a given match day. I’m very confident and try my best to win every match.”
They say lightning only strikes once but for Ouahab, it strikes once every couple of years. How does he manage to step up his game like that when he rarely competes at that level and at such tournaments?
“It’s harder but things haven’t been easy for me throughout my career. I’m used to dealing with this stuff,” he says. “I’m going to try harder to be more consistent and try to fight and not give up.
“I’m always very happy to play at home. The crowd helped me a lot today. It’s an opportunity, I only get to play home once or twice a year, at this tournament and maybe Davis Cup, so I have to use these chances and try to win, to make myself happy and the people watching as well.”
Wednesday’s victory means Ouahab has already jumped 100 spots up the rankings and he’s hoping to keep things going. But he’s not burdening himself by setting any concrete ranking goals, although playing more tournaments seems like a priority for him this season.
The miracle of Marrakech 😱
From 2-5 down in the third set, Morocco’s World No. 617 Lamine Ouahab STUNS No. 34 Philipp Kohlschreiber… pic.twitter.com/4JOAoFbP84
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) April 11, 2018
“This year I’m just trying to enjoy my tennis and play as many tournaments as I can,” he explains. “I’m trying to play the whole year, to be fit and to play maybe 25 or 30 tournaments.
“The more matches I win this week, the more it’s going to help me not go through the smaller tournaments again. It’s tough mentally after beating a top-100 player and playing this tournament to then go back and play the smaller ones. The more I win this week, the easier it’s going to be for me.”
Even though he’s not regularly around the tour, Ouahab is a familiar figure to many players around the circuit, who all remember him from his junior days (he was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world as a junior).
“I think people know I can beat these kind of players. I’ve done it before. I grew up with so many of these players on tour. Even though they’re ranked better I am, we know each other very well,” he added.
Ouahab faces Basilashvili in the second round in Marrakech, with one eye firmly set on the quarter-finals. Can he make it 2-0 against the Georgian this season? It’s a genuine possibility!