SPORT

Serving with the wind

Bahrami Mansoor — allsports

Bahrami Mansoor — allsports  

LONDON, July 3. A small crowd of fans gathered seeking autographs. A few more arrived seeking to shake the player's hand. Others just stood behind, smiling as an accomplice grabbed a snapshot of one of the greatest tennis talents at the Wimbledon tournament.

Venus? Anna? Tim? No. The player is ... Mansour Bahrami.

He's just finished his over-45s invitation doubles match with partner Gene Myer--a comfortable 6-3 6-4 victory over Australians Owen Davidson and Alan Stone on a standing-room only Court 18 on Tuesday.

Bahrami as it turns out is not a multi-Grand Slam winner. He's not young either. He turned 46 earlier this year. But he does attract the fans, and when he plays people laugh and marvel at his trickery and array of shots.

``You are one of the funniest players I have ever seen,'' one female fan says. ``I couldn't stop laughing the entire match.''

Tennis was not always a laughing matter for the Iranian.

After learning the game while hitting with anything resembling a tennis racket (a frying pan, dustpan, piece of wood), he was stopped from playing when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979.

Realising he had to leave Iran the 25-year-old went to France where he now lives. However he lost most of his playing career because he held an Iranian passport.

``I couldn't travel with an Iranian passport. I couldn't go anywhere,'' Bahrami told Reuters after the match. ``From the ages of 20 to 30 I couldn't play professional tennis--those were the best years of my career and that was because of politics.''

The spectre of politics became involved in the world of tennis again this week when Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi teamed up with Israeli Amir Hadad to reach the third round of the men's doubles.

The Pakistani government and sporting bodies questioned the move by Qureshi and suggested he could be banned.

But Bahrami now has no time for such matters.

``I do not care. I do not talk about politics,'' he signed off and turned back to the fans clamouring for his autograph.

Earlier, Bahrami had wowed those same fans with his trademark theatrical antics.

Shots between the legs. Inside-out serves that slice sideways at right angles. Incredible backhand chops with enough backspin on them the ball carries back to his side of the net.

If that didn't work he just cranked up his serve.

``I'm sorry but I just want to see how fast I can serve. Don't take it personally,'' he yelled to Davidson in his first service game.

``No worries,'' Davidson replied milliseconds before Bahrami smashed one down at almost 120 mph.

``I'm serving with the wind,'' Bahrami shouted back when he saw the speed gun's display.

Halfway through the match Henri Leconte--former French Davis Cup player and fans' favourite--appeared in the press box. ``Time'', Leconte yelled, signalling to his friend of his arrival.

Leconte then climbed on court and settled down in one of the line judges chairs and proceeded to hurl good-natured abuse at Bahrami. Not to be upstaged, Bahrami smashed a 105 mph ace into the corner that hit Leconte and knocked the former French Open finalist off his chair. — Reuters

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