A meeting with... Karim Alami
Sunday, June 1, 2008
For the last four years Karim Alami has been a tennis commentator for the Al Jazeera channel - a smooth career-change for the Moroccan, who was No25 in the world in 2000. Here he tells us all about his new life.
While Younes El Aynaoui continues to torture his soul on the circuit, and Hicham Arazi struggles to open an academy in Marrakech, the third wise man of Moroccan tennis’ golden generation has not yet cut his umbilical cord with the yellow ball. Karim Alami has simply swapped his racquet for a microphone and his white shorts for a dapper suit worthy of the red carpet at Cannes. “It’s another chapter of my life,” the handsome Karim explains, with an amused smile.
Alongside several other retired players, the Moroccan has succeeded in crossing over to the “dark side”. He happily assumes the role of consultant, which has been adopted by various other former stars, such as John McEnroe, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Alex Corretja, Guy Forget, Jim Courier and Martina Navratilova.
“I played at Qatar a lot during the course of my career. It was where I beat Pete Sampras when he was still world No1 and I was only in the top 200. Following that win, both the Federation and the public started to sit up and take notice of me. The Al Jazeera channel was launched at the end of 2003, and I stopped playing in December of that year, so the timing was perfect. They offered me the job, I did a trial week in January and then I covered the Qatar tournament,” says the man often described as “Karim the Dream” by his female admirers on the circuit.
Ten weeks of the year on the circuit
Alami and his family moved to Doha, where the former player was thrown straight into his new role at the deep end, without any training. “It was difficult in the beginning but you get more confident as time goes on. You adapt and because I love this job, I really put my heart into it because I enjoy learning. I didn’t want to be a coach and I’m not the sort of person who can sit around doing nothing.”
Which is just as well as, at Al Jazeera, Karim does not have time to sit around. The station covers twenty eight tournaments a year and sends reporters to the most important ones so Karim ends up spending ten weeks of the year on the circuit which allows him to “catch up with friends who are still in tennis.” “It was a bit strange at first to come back as journalist to the places I’d been to as a player,” says Karim who is working at Roland Garros this year with Amin Rissassi, the former Moroccan Davis Cup captain.
Comfortably installed in one of the leather armchairs in the Al Jazeera booth across from the statue of the famous Musketeers, the man who lost a thrilling four set match here in 2001 to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round, smiles happily. Life is good for Karim and he oozes contentment.
“As a former player, you’ve got credibility as you know what you’re talking about. I was on the circuit for almost fifteen years and I’ve played a lot of the players whose matches I’m covering now, so I know their tactics and their strong and weak points. But just because you’re a former player, doesn’t mean you’ll be a successful coach or organiser. It’s the same for commentating. You have to prove yourself.”
“There are fewer stars today”
“As I look back, I realise more and more how lucky I was to have chosen this career which allowed me to travel around the world. It brings back all sorts of memories, that’s for sure; the Olympics of 1992 and 2000, my win over Sampras in Doha in 1994, the Davis Cup and my win over Albert Costa in Monte Carlo in 2001,” recalls Karim who won two titles as a player, both in 1996 in Atlanta and Palermo.
From the commentators’ booth he can cheer on his friends on the court - “And why not?” When he is bored, his tone does not change but his voice becomes slightly strained. He is also critical of today’s players.
“There are fewer stars today. There aren’t the personalities and the excitement that used to make tennis so interesting. It’s a new generation; they don’t train the same way or hit the ball with the same speed. Hardly anyone serves and volleys anymore and that’s why I love to watch Llodra,” says the former showman of the courts.
In the same breath, he adds,” When you watch certain matches, you’re just dying to be out there playing again. It makes you more nostalgic, even if I never thought of going back.”
In another hour, Karim will be back on the court, but this time as a reporter, turning a new page, beginning his new life and enjoying it as much as ever.