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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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Rudolf Molleker knocks out two-time champion Leonardo Mayer in Hamburg

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German 18-year-old Next Gen player Rudolf Molleker knocked out 2014 and 2017 Hamburg champion Leonardo Mayer 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 after 1 hour and 39 minutes at the Hamburg European Open.

 

Molleker beat Mayer in 2017 in the Hamburg qualifying round, but Mayer got a spot in the main draw as a lucky loser and went on to win the title.

Molleker fended off all three break points in two consecutive games of the first set, before saving two set points in the tie-break. He sealed the second set with a single break.

The German teenager saved two break points in the seventh game with two service games with two service winners and one more chance in the ninth game to set up a tie-break. Mayer took the lead twice at 6-5 and 8-7, but Molleker saved both chances with two winners and sealed the tie-break on the 18th point after a double fault from Mayer.

Molleker earned an early break at the start of the second set and held his service games in the next games before sealing the win with a service winner at 5-4 to secure his spot in the round of 16.

Marton Fucsovics cruised past Phillip Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-0 dropping just 16 points on serve. Fucsovics got an early break in the fourth game to clinch the opening set 6-3. The Hungarian player broke three times in a one-sided second set and sealed the win with a service winner.

Andrey Rublev, who lost in the second round at Wimbledon and Umag, edged this year’s Munich and Houston champion Christian Garin 6-4 7-6 (7-5) after 1 hour and 39 minutes to score his second win over the Chilean player this year. Rublev broke three times to seal the opening set 6-4. The Russian player got the break back at 4-5 in the second set to set up a tie-break, which he sealed 7-5.

Jeremy Chardy came back from losing the first set to beat Jeremy Chardy 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 6-3 after 2 hours and 34 minutes. Paire fended off a set point at 4-5 in the opening set to clinch the tie-break 7-4. Paire got a late break in the second set, but Chardy won two games at 5-5 to force the match to the third set. Chardy went up a double break to seal the third set 6-3.

Martin Klizan converted all five break points to cruise past Daniel Altmaier 6-2 6-2.

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Alex De Minaur Learning Patience After Two Month Injury Lay-Off

Alex De Minaur is ready to be patient as he looks to build some momentum in Atlanta this week.

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Alex De Minaur (@TennisAustralia - Twitter)

Alex De Minaur is learning the art of patience after missing less than two months of action earlier this year. 

 

The Australian had a rough start to the 2019 as he was forced to fight off a groin injury despite winning the Sydney title in January.

Then he had a couple of months off before once again struggling on his return at Indian Wells where he lost in his opening round.

But these setbacks haven’t stopped the 20 year-old from being patient as he looks to make his mark in the US hard court swing,“I feel like I’m doing all the right things, putting myself out there,” De Minaur told atptour.com.

“If it doesn’t happen this week, next week or the week after, I’m going to keep doing the same things. I’m going to do all the right things, be mentally strong, physically strong and I’m playing good tennis, so I think it’s just a matter of time.”

After Indian Wells, De Minaur spent a few weeks in his home in Alicante, Spain as he looked to regain match sharpness.

It was a period that proved challenging for the talented Aussie as he loves to compete, “I’m not used to being at home for that long and, I mean, us tennis players, we need to go out there and compete, at least me,” De Minaur explained.

I’m a very competitive person, and it was tough for me. I had my outlets. I was playing golf a lot. But still, I needed to get back on court. 

“Obviously seeing people go ahead of you and guys are playing these tournaments and seeing the results they were doing and me not being able to actually even be able to be out there and competing, that was very tough.”

Despite losing five of his seven ATP tour matches since returning properly in Estoril, De Minaur is determined to get back to the level that saw him rise to world number 24.

The Next Gen Star thinks it’s a confidence thing and is not easy to regain after an injury, “[It’s] just confidence. Playing matches, playing the big points right,” he explained.

“It’s something that you take for granted when things are going well. But when you have to stop and try to get back into it, it’s tough. Now I’m just keen to go out there and compete and play some good tennis.”

De Minaur continues his comeback surge this week when he competes in Atlanta, where he will face Bradley Klahn or Marius Copil in his first match.

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Nicolas Jarry Aims To Follow In Family Footsteps After Reaching Bastad Final

Nicolas Jarry looks to join his grandfather in winning an ATP title as he reaches the Bastad final.

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Nicolas Jarry (@FOXSport_Chile - Twitter)

Nicolas Jarry will look to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps tomorrow when he takes on Juan Ignacio Londero in the Bastad final. 

 

The Chilean was in fine form today as he beat another Chilean in Federico Delbonis in the semi-finals today, 6-3 6-2 in 64 minutes.

It is Jarry’s third ATP final and his second of the season following his final in Geneva, where he wasted two championship points to lose to Alexander Zverev.

Should the 23 year-old be triumphant on Sunday, he will join his grandfather as an ATP titlist after Jaime Fillol Sr. won six tour titles and finished a high of number 14 in the rankings in 1974.

Next up for Jarry is Cordoba champion Juan Ignacio Londero, who cruised past 2016 Swedish Open champion Albert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets.

The 6-3 6-4 victory included the Argentinian winning 73% of his first service points as he dominated the Spaniard in the 1 hour and 21 minute win.

It will be the second final of the season for Londero, who has enjoyed thriving on the clay in 2019 which has helped him reach a career high ranking of 58 in the world in June.

A good sign for Londero, was that en route to winning his lone title in 2019 in Cordoba, he beat Jarry in their only previous ATP World Tour meeting.

Both men will look to cap off an excellent week tomorrow as the final is scheduled for 2pm local time.

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