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Playing tennis in Syria, as the bombs fell

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TENNIS IN SYRIA – It might have been the most intimidating shot in the history of tennis. In Sarajevo, during the horrific Balkan War, a Bosnian Serb sniper in the surrounding hills took aim, fired and obliterated a tennis ball on a city court below as two young Bosnian Serb men played a match. Robert Rand for washingtonpost.com

 

It might have been the most intimidating shot in the history of tennis. In Sarajevo, during the horrific Balkan War, a Bosnian Serb sniper in the surrounding hills took aim, fired and obliterated a tennis ball on a city court below as two young Bosnian Serb men played a match.

“We wanted to show them we weren’t afraid,” Russ Hadziabdic told me many years later. “That’s why we continued to play tennis, even then, in the middle of a war.”

I thought of this story the other day while speaking with my wife, who works in Damascus as part of the international humanitarian aid effort. (She works for a major international organization, and asked that we not use her name).

My wife packed her tennis racquet when she moved to Syria a year and a half ago. I wasn’t surprised when, shortly after her deployment, she found a Syrian tennis coach who was willing to hit with her on a hotel court seven days a week.

For my wife, it’s a diversion from the stress of work and the overwhelming sorrow of the Syrian civil war. Aid convoys deliver disappointment and frustration when they fail to reach people in mind-numbing need. Mortars fall indiscriminately in Damascus, creating destruction and fear. A mortar fell on my wife’s hotel on her first day there, graying hair and wracking nerves but thankfully injuring nobody.

“Hitting a tennis ball gets the frustration out of my system so I can go to work with my sanity intact,” she said.

For the coach, teaching my wife is a source of much needed income in Syria’s debilitated wartime economy. It is also an expression of pride, tradition and normality, for he comes from a family of tennis coaches and enthusiasts.

The coach is a lovely man in his early fifties, a former pro who’s fit, tanned and tough. “He doesn’t drink water all day during Ramadan but still plays tennis for hours and hours under the scorching sun,” my wife said. “I drink gallons and he takes nothing. He says he grew up that way.”

The coach is surrounded by a small retinue of local players, a half dozen or so who compete and socialize with one another. They’ve been together for more than 20 years, playing throughout on that hotel hard court. It’s all men except for one woman. The men play in tennis shorts, bare chested.

The group figures the hotel court is as safe as any spot in the city. The place itself is unlikely to be a high-priority military target, although nearby mortar strikes have sprinkled shrapnel onto the field of play. The court nonetheless remains their turf. They have always played there so why stop now?

My wife told me recently that one of the regulars hadn’t showed up for a while.

“This tennis player lives in the old part of Damascus,” she said. “One afternoon he was speaking with a neighbor, a woman, whose house had been hit by a mortar. She miraculously survived. And just as they were having this conversation another mortar landed right where the woman was standing, killing her instantly and injuring the man.” My wife said he has since returned to playing tennis.

What struck my wife most about this story wasn’t the tragic happenstance of it all. It was the dispassionate manner in which her tennis friends recounted what had transpired.

“They appeared calm,” my wife said. “That’s what has happened to ordinary civilians here in Syria who have had to endure so much for so long. I have met many such people. They don’t show anger, they don’t show fear. They simply continue their lives without any ado.”

My wife, her coach and their friends will continue to play tennis in Damascus as long as conditions permit. There is the risk of mortars. But so far they haven’t had to worry about snipers picking off their volleys.

As for me, I sit here in the comfort of my home, sipping a coffee and enjoying professional tennis on TV.

By the way, regarding that Bosnian tennis player who came under fire during the Balkan civil war. He lives in the United States now but visited a peaceful Sarajevo this summer. Armed with a racquet, he returned to the court where the shooting happened. He played tennis there, uneventfully, with his son.

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Gerard Pique Believes Long-Term Davis Cup Project Will Work Despite Critics

Gerard Pique claims that the new Davis Cup is a long-term project as the competition kicks off today in Madrid.

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Gerard Pique (@bbctennis - Twitter)

Footballer Gerard Pique believes the Davis Cup is a long-term project that can work despite criticism over the re-formatted competition. 

 

Last August, the Barcelona defender had his re-formatted idea of the Davis Cup approve as part of big funding put in by his company Kosmos.

The competition, which starts today in Madrid, sees 18 teams compete in a one-week competition where they will fight for the Davis Cup title.

Despite Pique’s enthusiasm for the event, many fans and players have criticised the move explaining how the 118 year history of the competition has ended.

However for the Spaniard, he believes that he has convinced many doubters on this journey, “In terms of the event we needed to convince different people who were maybe sceptical and were against the idea of changing the format,” Pique admitted to Davis Cup.com.

“We’ve had to face it since the beginning. This is something I believe we did an amazing job at because we feel people in the game are now more convinced.

“The Davis Cup has a big meaning in the world of sport and tennis, there were some people against it, but right now I feel that Davis Cup is going to be stronger than it has been in the last 10 years.”

Despite the likes of Roger Federer and Daniil Medvedev missing from this week’s competition, there are eleven top 20 players competing including Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Many critics are seeing this innovation as a short-term project but Pique hasn’t seen it that way and believes that in five years time people will be convinced about the event, “I like to think big and our idea since the beginning is to put this competition where it deserves to be, and maybe to create an event longer than one week,” the Spaniard said.

We understand we have to start little by little. I don’t want to compare ourselves to any other tournament because I think we are unique. In five years’ time I want everyone, players and fans, to think ‘Davis Cup is in November and I want to be there.'”

Even though there are doubters players such as Andy Murray have told people to give the event a chance despite the amount of tickets that are still available for the event.

The action begins today at 3pm GMT time with three ties:

Croatia v Russia

Italy v Canada

Belgium v Colombia

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ATP

Pierre Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut claim their first ATP Finals title in London

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The French team formed by Pierre Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut claimed their first men’s doubles title with a 6-3 6-4 win over Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus in 70 minutes at the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London ending the 2019 ATP season on a high note with back-to-back titles in Paris Bercy and London. They remained unbeaten during the whole week at the ATP Finals in London winning all five matches in straight sets.

 

Herbert and Mahut fended off all four break points they faced scoring their ninth consecutive match win. The French doubles specialists have become the first team to win the doubles ATP Finals title without dropping a set since Jean Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in 2015.

Herbert and Mahut fended off break points in the third game of the match before earning the only break of the opening set in the next game. The Frenchmen saved a break point in the sixth game before breaking serve in the seventh game.

They have become the French team to win the ATP Finals doubles title since Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro, who triumphed in Shanghai in 2005.

Herbert and Mahut have won 15 doubles titles as a team during their career. This year they became the eighth men’s doubles team to complete the career Grand Slam at last January’s Australian Open and also won the Rolex Paris Masters in front of their home fans.

Last year they came within one point of winning the ATP Finals title against Mike Bryan and Jack Sock after holding a match point.

“Thank you Nicolas for sharing the court, for having so much enjoyable moments and giving me so much joy, when I am with you on the court. You played an unbelievable final, so thank you for that”, said Pierre Hugues Herbert.

 

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Jannik Sinner wins his third ATP Challenger in Ortisei

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Jannik Sinner won the ATP Challenger in Ortisei adding another title to his impressive collection of trophies he lifted during a memorable 2019 season.

 

The 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion beat world number 173 Sebastian Ofner from Austria 6-2 6-4 in 1 hour and 6 minutes in the final of the Sparkasse Challenger Val Gardena Sudtirol at the Tennis Center in Ortisei.

Sinner won his third ATP Challenger title in 2019 after his previous wins in Bergamo and Lexington. He also reached the final in Ostrava. During the tournament the 18-year-old player from San Candido beat Lucas Miedler in the first round, Roberto Marcora in the second round, Federico gaio in the quarter final and Antoine Hoang in the semifinal without dropping a set.

Sinner will improve his ranking to his career-high at world number 78 in the ATP Ranking becoming the sixth best ranked Italian player after Matteo Berrettini, Fabio Fognini, Lorenzo Sonego, Marco Cecchinato and Andreas Seppi.

Sinner broke serve in the fifth game of the opening set to take a 3-2 lead. Ofner missed two game points in the seventh game. The Austrian player faced another break point after his third double fault. In the next game Sinner saved the first break point he faced. Sinner closed out the first set 6-2 after two backhand errors from Ofner in the eighth game.

Sinner went up a break to open up a 2-0 lead, but Ofner broke back in the fourth game and held on his serve to take a 3-2 lead. Ofner saved three break points in the seventh game to take a 4-3. Sinner converted his fourth break point in the ninth game to take a 5-4 lead and served out the win with two consecutive aces.

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