Dubai // The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships have provided Omar Behrouzian with some of his best memories, but yesterday was not one of them.
The UAE No 1 fondly remembers hitting balls with his idols Jennifer Capriati and Andre Aggasi, and playing against Roger Federeris the highlight of his career. Yesterday, however, the Emirati lasted just 36 minutes against Sergiy Stakhovsky as he was beaten 6-1, 6-1.
“It’s not very enjoyable, to be honest with you,” Behrouzian said. “I’m always privileged to get a wild card obviously. I’m honoured to be part of this big tournament. I think the reason they give me the wild card is because I’m still always giving 200 per cent for my country. It’s kind of like an award.
“But level wise it’s very difficult. There were years when I felt like I’m coming into the tournament playing really well, you know. But these guys, you’re talking about the best 100 in the world. So it’s a different ballgame, you know.”
The 30 year old was making his eighth appearance in a tournament which, as a youngster, he did not think he had a chance of taking part in.
“When I was six or seven, I could not have dreamt of playing in a tournament like the Dubai Open,” Behrouzian said.
“Or playing with Federer. I feel I am just lucky, that God helped me out.
“I have had a lot of moments that I really enjoyed. Growing up, I used to follow both men’s and women’s tennis. So Capriati was one of the players I really liked. When I got the chance to practise with her here at the Dubai Open, it was one of those moments where I felt really, really good.
“But then the best moment for me is honestly when I had to play with Roger Federer, because Federer for us tennis players is like the icon. I mean not a lot of people get a chance to practise with him three days in a row. That’s when I felt I was a tennis player, playing with the best player maybe in history.
“To be on the same court with him, to practise with him is something that you can never forget.”
A huge photograph of Behrouzian with Federer adorns the walls of the Emirati’s home. Playing against Stakhovsky for the second year in a row yesterday, Behrouzian believes he was playing better than last year, when was beaten 6-4, 6-2.
But it is the Ukrainian who will be playing the world No 1 Novak Djokovic in the second round after his latest victory. “I’m playing better this year than last year, but with these guys it just depends on the day,” Behrouzian said.
“In my opinion, he played much better today. Last year maybe he didn’t know me and his game was a bit off. Today he was more focused and he didn’t give me a lot of free points.”
The match between the world No 74 and Behrouzian, whose best ATP ranking is a modest No 805, was never really expected to be a contest. The Emirati, himself, considers his Dubai Tennis Championships appearances nothing more than a ritual. “At the beginning, I used to put a lot of pressure on myself,” Behrouzian said.
“With time, you realise, you know, what can you do? I can’t refuse the wild card.
“At the same time, I’m realistic enough to say that these guys are much better than me. They’re much, much better than me. I don’t care if it’s 6-0, 6-0 or 6-4, 7-5. They’re much better and that’s a fact.”
Behrouzian says he could have been a competitive tennis player, but a lack of exposure hindered his progress. Hooked to the game since he visited Wimbledon as a six year old with his father, the Arsenal and Michael Jackson fan says he has suffered from a lack of competition as well.
“I was working with Omar since he was 12 years old and I worked with him for around 10 years,” said Zeeshan Ali, Behrouzian’s former personal coach.
“He has been an amazing student and he is extremely hard working, but unfortunately what happened was that he was a bit short of exposure that he required and was needed, in terms of going out and playing more tournaments.” Behrouzian urged Tennis Emirates to organise more tournaments in the country.
“I think that the standard needs to improve,” he said.
“It needs to improve a lot actually, in quantity and quality. “We don’t have a lot of players and if you don’t have a lot of players, you don’t have a lot of competitions. For example, our season starts in September and we haven’t had a single tournament yet.
“So it’s really tough for me or for Hamad Al Janahi [who played in the qualifiers]. You can’t just suddenly expect to play a tournament like this and just perform at your best. It’s not possible”
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