Syrian tennis player Hazem Naw’s journey to the top

On Thursday, Hazem Naw will face Lucas Pouille in the second round of the Pau Challenger tournament. Before taking on the former world No. 10, this 24-year-old Syrian achieved the best performance of his career on Tuesday by defeating Arthur Rinderknech, seeded No. 2 in Pau and 86th player in the world (7- 6 (2), 6-7 (3), 6-2). A staggering feat considering his extraordinary career.

Tennis, a family affair

If Hazem Naw took up tennis very early, from the age of five, it was to follow in the footsteps of his big brother, Amer, and under the direction of his father, Ahmad: “As soon as I “I had the racket in my hands, I fell in love with this sport,” he says on the ATP website. Until I was 11 or 12, I competed in tournaments and won a few, but my main focus was on my older brother. Then when the war started, we were all shocked and didn’t know what to do. Everything was new to us at that time. Many of my father’s students and their families moved away. »

Training under bombs

At the beginning of the 2010s, when the civil war broke out in Syria, the young Hazem actually experienced the horrors of dangerous training, because the five courts of the complex where he played were located two kilometers from the front line. In 2013, the complex was also hit by shells: “While we were training, we would sometimes hear gunshots, so we would stop and go home. Every day we came to see how the situation was, whether it was calm or not, and depending on that, we stayed or left. After the courts were damaged, my brother and I still trained for six to eight months on these courts, but the situation was still dangerous. Once the training was over, we would go home and say to ourselves: “We survived!”

The obligation of exile

In 2017, Naw left Syria with his brother, first towards Lebanon. Then they landed in Germany, in Cologne, where they still live. There, a family friend helps them get their bearings. They train at the Rot-Weiss Tennis Club, where Hazem gets along with, among others, Dustin Brown (64th in 2016) and Oscar Otte (36th in 2022), and where team matches are played in the Bundesliga, which allows for some returns. essential to maintaining the project: “At that moment, it was the best possible choice, I only had one option and of course I had to choose it. Even though it’s difficult to live far from my family. »

Late progress

Having reached 109th place in the world among juniors at the start of 2017, which was already unprecedented for a Syrian, Hazem Naw took time to reach the professional stages. He only obtained his first ATP point at the age of 21, thanks to a past round at the Future in Monastir, Tunisia, in 2021. He entered the top 1000 in 2022 but it was not until the end of the very last tournament of the 2023 season that he finally appears in the top 500. 2023 is really the pivotal year, because he wins 45 matches and reaches six Futures finals, for three titles. Until the start of this year, he had only played one match at Challenger level and had faced an ATP top 200 player only once.

The 2024 festival

Since the beginning of this year, Hazem Naw has been living a waking dream. He started by going to win a “Futures” title in Iran, which gave him the opportunity to see his parents for only the third time in eight years. Earlier this month, he became the first Syrian to win a match on the Challenger circuit, in Koblenz, Germany, where, from qualifying, he then reached the semi-finals, beating members of the top for the first time 200 (Billy Harris, 195th and Zdenek Kolar, 180th).

Rebelote the following week in Cherbourg (second round after going through the qualifiers again, and before a fairly close defeat against Quentin Halys, 6-3, 7-6). And this week, after once again extricating himself from the preliminary table, he beat Arthur Rinderknech (86th) on Tuesday, establishing a new record for his country. Next Monday, he will be at least 337th in the ATP. If he continues his momentum, Grand Slam qualifications could open up to him before the end of the year.

2024-02-21 18:26:55
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