DUBAI // The veteran Iranian tennis player, Mansour Bahrami, is in Dubai this week to take part in the Legends Rock Dubai tournament at the Aviation Club. It is his fourth appearance at the tournament, that includes former world No 1 players Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier. At 51 years of age most players would have chosen to follow other interests, but he bristles with pride in saying that he remains one of the busiest players on the circuit. The longevity of his career is testament to his enthusiasm, entertaining crowds with a dazzling array of trick shots.
He is the self-styled raconteur with a racket, often clowning around with bemused opponents and an enraptured crow As a pioneer of the game in the Middle East - and with a career spanning four decades - he has a unique insight into the challenges facing the development of tennis in the region. "It is great that tennis tournaments are coming to the Middle East. I know the federations are working hard to capitalise on this by bringing youngsters through. But it will take time for a tennis culture to develop." he said.
"Of course I would be very proud if there was a Middle Eastern Wimbledon champion in the next decade. But I know this is impossible. You can't achieve success overnight. Tennis has to be promoted and developed to build enthusiasm among kids. "If you have thousands of kids playing then you have the basis for success at international level. "Another key factor is the climate. To become good, kids have to train three or four hours a day but you can't expect them to do that in 50 degree temperatures."
Bahrami's career is an illustration of how success as a Middle Eastern tennis player has to be achieved against the odds. Having never had a coach or a single tennis lesson he spent hours honing his technique on the court. As he was reaching his peak he spent a decade in the sporting wilderness as a result of the Iranian revolution. "I could not leave the country for several years. Eventually I managed to move to Paris but even then I couldn't leave the country to play in tournaments. It was a sad time for me watching players of a similar ability going on to win championships and get into the top 10 while I wasn't able to compete."
While this enforced sabbatical undeniably robbed him of the chance to win championships he betrays no signs of bitterness. He has achieved fame and fortune as a veteran and relishes the chance to spread his enthusiasm for the game. It is fitting that his proudest memory was not lifting a trophy but instilling a love for the game, as he explains. "Recently a man approached me and said that his wife had hated tennis but had seen me play and had fallen in love with the game. That is what it is all about for me."
Bahrami competes in doubles matches during the Legends Rock tournament, that runs from Nov 19 -23. Tickets are available from the box office, some Virgin Megastores and at the Aviation Club reception. For more information see www.legendsrockdubai.com. email@example.com