Saturday, May 1, 2010

Lamine Ouahab: Arabs' Strongest Hope in World Tennis

Currently the most successful Arab tennis player, Lamine Ouahab is ranked 159 in the world rankings. The Algerian drew my attention when he clinched himself a spot in the 2009 Australian Open main draw after clawing his way through the qualifying rounds, where he beat familiar names like Mathieu Montcourt and Ryan Sweeting.

For me, it was the first time to notice an Arab in the main draw at a Grand Slam since Morocco's Younes el Aynaoui and I was instantly interested in following Ouahab's news, whenever I actually managed to find out his whereabouts and latest results.Sadly Ouahab was crushed in his first round match in Melbourne that year against Florian Mayer, but still I was impressed he managed to qualify.

It is quite evident from his track record on the ATP website, that Ouahab is a hardworker, which makes him standout amongst most players from the region. The 25-year-old chose Barcelona as his residence and spent the 2009 season improving his ranking by some impressive performances that saw him win back-to-back Futures events in Morocco, where he also made one final, one semifinal and two quarters in Challengers events.

This helped him grab spots in the qualifying draws of some ATP events, and besides qualifying for the Australian Open in the beginning of the year, Ouahab claimed himself a spot in the main draw of the ATP 250 event in Munich, where he fell to Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round.

Ouahab tried to emulate his Australian Open efforts in Roland Garros, but he fell at the very last hurdle in the 3rd round of the qualies to Monaco native, Jean-Rene Lisnard. Unfortunately, he was less successful in Wimbledon as he lost to Rajeev Ram in the first round of the qualies.

The Algerian almost qualified for the ATP event in Bastad but also fell in the final round, however that did not deter him from making it to the semifinals of a Challengers event in Italy 2 weeks later. That and a final showing in a Challengers in Slovakia, helped Ouahab reach a career high ranking of 114 in September 2009 and he ended his season playing in the main draw of the ATP tournament in Lyon, where he fell to Michael Llodra in the 1st round.

This season, Ouahab made back-to-back Challenger semifinals and is currently coming off an incredible final showing at the Rome Challenger that took place last week, where he fell to former world number 25, Filippo Volandri.

It is true that Ouahab has not won a Challenger title since his only two triumphs back in 2006 in Tunisia and France, however the 25-year-old's success is unmatched by any of his fellow Arab tennis players. His choice to train in Barcelona, undoubtedly paved the way for his success. A young Lamine Ouahab got the chance to face the likes of Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco in his debut season on the seniors circuit in 2002, in Futures events around Spain. Despite losing to both those tennis stars, it's still a pretty cool story to tell your kids later on, that you played Nadal when he was young.

Am not sure if Ouahab will try to qualify for Roland Garros this month, but his final appearance in Rome last week is a good sign that he might.

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