Tennis is a game of possibilities, possibilities beyond borders. With the game moving out of exclusive club houses and becoming more accessible, it has seen an influx of players on countries which we didn’t know played tennis.
The first weekend of the Chennai Open saw the crowd drawn towards a lanky, unconventional player with Bob Marley hair.
Dustin Brown, who hails from Jamaica, proudly wears a yellow T-shirt bearing the name of his country once he is done with the matches. If his unique playing style is not enough to pique interest, to see the Caribbean nation’s name on a tennis scoreboard is usually enough.
“Yeah, I do find quite a lot of crowd support wherever I play,” says Brown, 25. Standing at 6’5”, Brown, at 144, is the only player from his country ranked on the ATP.
“We don’t even have any tournament in Jamaica anymore, so I rarely get to play in front of a home crowd,” says the German-born Brown, who does not have a sponsor and is a part-time model.
While Brown comes from a country known more for cricket and Usain Bolt, there are players like Louk Sorensen and Marsel Ilhan, whose countries have forever lived under the shadow of a neighbouring super power.
Sorensen, who is from Ireland, brought some Sunday cheer into the pubs as he beat India’s Yuki Bhambri to earn his maiden ATP main draw spot.
Ilhan, born in Uzbekistan, is Turkey’s top player at 120. Dudi Sela, from the neighbouring Israel is a bigger story. The serve-and-volleyer, one of the shortest players on tour at five feet and eight and half inches, grew up on the Israel-Lebanon border under the constant shadow of death.
“When I was a child I could hear the missiles all the time,” says Sela, whose parents migrated from Romania. “But I guess we just got used to it.”
Sela enjoyed a happy 2009, entering the fourth round at Wimbledon, breaking into the top-50 and helping Israel enter the semifinals of the Davis Cup, after wins over Sweden and Russia.
Marat Safin, the maverick Russian who recently retired from the game, had dismissed Israel’s chances in the quarterfinal of the team event, saying they were “lucky” to get that far.
The 24-year-old Sela just smiled at his senior’s statement. Israel went on to win the tie 4-1 and its victory was a lesson for Safin and the tennis world that a country’s pedigree in the game matters little in this ‘global village’.