To take our minds off the rain . . .
A nice article in the NY Times about "Vowel Man" Younes El Aynaoui. This guy must be the newbie, he's written several articles in a row for the Times.
Diplomatic Approach Serves Well
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
It is still early, but it has been a United States Open where the players have risen above the wider world's problems.
Lleyton Hewitt did accuse ATP officials of lying; Jennifer Capriati did express her disregard for Venus and Serena Williams's father, Richard. But on issues of genuine import outside the tennis microcosm, the messages have been more uplifting.
Amir Hadad of Israel and Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan continued their politically inconvenient doubles partnership. James Blake apologized to Hewitt for a fan's taunt of "racist" at Arthur Ashe Stadium. And on a smaller, less symbolic stage, Younes el-Aynaoui of Morocco did his best to mend fences Friday on his way into the fourth round. As a Muslim in New York with the anniversary of Sept. 11 looming, he said he regretted the attacks and any potential typecasting.
"I was in Bucharest for a tournament last year when it happened, and it was difficult to believe," he said. "But it is painful that people were speaking of all the Muslims and Arabs like they were dangerous and crazy. I think this was only an exception, an extreme thing. It was of course an extremely dangerous situation, and I hope that nothing like this will ever happen again."
Before the attacks, the 30-year-old Aynaoui was thinking of moving his training base to the United States. Instead, he chose to move with his wife and two young sons to Barcelona, Spain, but that choice has hardly been free of tension.
The relationship between Morocco and Spain has deteriorated in recent years, with disputes over fishing rights, illegal immigration and the future of Western Sahara, which Spain once ruled and which Morocco now controls. In July, the two nations came to minor blows over a small island just off the coast of Morocco.
It was a complicated moment for someone who lives among Spaniards, trains with Spaniards and is fluent in their language. On Friday, he defeated Fernando Vicente of Spain to become the first Moroccan to reach the Round of 16 at the Open. "For my part, I have always been made to feel very welcome in Barcelona, and I hope that the Moroccan players will always be welcome in Spain, and that relations between the countries will improve," Aynaoui said.
In the hope of pushing that agenda, he and the rising Spanish player Tommy Robredo played doubles together in tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati last month. "I am very good friends with the Spanish players," Aynaoui said. "We are above the politics."
Aynaoui, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2000 Australian Open and is seeded 20th here, is better equipped than most to play the diplomat. The son of a Moroccan father and a French mother, he grew up in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, then moved to Bordeaux in France at 17.
He now speaks six languages: Arabic, French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Before moving to Barcelona, he was based in Brussels and then Vienna. He even spent several months living in New York, where he underwent surgery in February 1998 on a fractured right ankle that threatened to end his career. One of his residences then was at the Ronald McDonald House in Manhattan, where he and his family lived with families whose children were undergoing cancer treatment.
"We were in a hotel for $200 a night; it was so expensive," Aynaoui said. "And they were nice enough to let us stay there. Seeing what those people are going through puts your mind to work."
In all, it has been a most atypical journey for a tennis star. Though he did get moderate assistance from the International Tennis Federation at one stage, there have been many more doubters than believers. The French did not think he had the right stuff, refusing him entry to their national training center.
Aynaoui also made little impression on the staff at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida, where he once trained and worked part time driving the academy's bus. But despite representing a nation with no history of Grand Slam tennis success and despite his technically vulnerable backhand, he has bloomed into a success story who has done much of it on his own (he is here without a coach). He now has a happy memory of New York to go with the more bittersweet.
"They were rather difficult moments with my injury," Aynaoui said. "I couldn't play. I could only train a bit, and today it makes me feel how lucky I am to be able to play 100 percent."
The Tennis Refuge
You will be missed, Michel Kratochvil!