Moroccan rolls into endurance test
Younes El Aynaoui has become known for amazing endurance, but even his resolve is being tested by not being able to hold his newborn son while chasing his Grand Slam tennis dream.india Updated: Sep 02, 2003 01:12 IST
Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui has become known for amazing endurance, but even his resolve is being tested by not being able to hold his newborn son while chasing his Grand Slam tennis dream.
Flamboyant El Anyaoui, ranked 21st, will face Spanish seventh seed Carlos Moya in a fourth round match here Tuesday at the US Open, trying to equal his best Slam showing by reaching the final eight as he did here last year.
The dreadlocked Muslim, who turns 32 five days after Sunday's men's final, extended Andy Roddick to an epic 21-19 fifth set at the Australian Open in January and is 5-0 here in tie-breakers, showing his steely resolve.
But El Aynaoui's thoughts are on his Barcelona home, his wife Anne and their third child, newborn son Noam Ismail, whom he has seen only in photographs sent to him through the Internet.
El Aynaoui's third boy was born two weeks ago while he was playing at the ATP Long Island event, the day he faced Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten in the quarter-finals of the last US Open tuneup.
"It was hard," El Aynaoui said. "I was very happy the day I played 'Guga'. I had a burst of energy. The next day I was really down. I played Blake in a poor match. I was thinking of flying home for a few days. Then I decided to stay.
"Now I'm looking forward to going back to see the baby seven days from now."
That's after Sunday's men's final, which El Aynaoui sees himself playing despite 1998 French Open champion Moya and such possible foes as Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, American star Roddick and US legend Andre Agassi.
"Of course I think I have a chance," El Aynaoui said. "A few times I'm in the the quarter-finals. It's three matches away. I did, let's say, 70 percent of the job."
El Aynaoui's 5-0 tie-breaker perfection through three matches -- including a 7-6 (7/1), 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) third-round victory over Czech 10th seed Jiri Novak -- shows the fortitude it takes to handle ultimate Slam stress.
"I like it. It's a very high-pressure time," El Aynaoui said. "You don't have many choices because if you lose the point you're behind. When you play at that stage it's a matter of luck.
"I'm going to be referenced as an endurance player. I've been working out because you get this only by practicing and hours on the court."
The first person El Aynaoui huggd after outlasting Novak was trainer Ricardo Gaitero, who only saw his first tennis match this year in Doha when he began working with the Moroccan.
El Aynaoui showed his stamina in Melbourne against Roddick, losing a five-hour quarter-final 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 after the longest men's singles fifth set in the history of Grand Slam tennis.
"I just remember it was five hours," Novak said. "Players are almost dying on the court. It doesn't really have anything to do with tennis anymore."
Novak was right. It has to do with heart. El Aynaoui has been showing that spirit ever since he left Morocco at 18 against his father's wishes to go to Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.
Unable to pay for lessons, El Aynaoui handled such menial tasks as cleaning the gym, driving the bus and monitoring students in exchange for instruction. He went from cleaning off courts to cleaning up opponents on them.
Now he tosses shirts and rackets to fans after matches, a joyous celebration that recalls his own days as a screaming spectator.
"When I was watching tennis, I would love to get a piece of a tennis player, a wristband, anything," he said. "So I'm always trying to give things away and make people happy. That's what I'm trying to do."
In a city preparing for the second anniversary of terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center and killed thousands, the Moroccan never feared that he might receive anything other than a friendly welcome here.
"I never thought of not coming and playing in the United States," El Aynaoui said. "I know that in sports people are more intelligent than saying, 'This guy is from Morocco so he might be a terrorist'. They come to enjoy the sport."
First Published: Sep 02, 2003 00:33 IST