Photo: Connor McCourtney
In late 2010 and early 2011, revolution rocked Tunisia and Egypt and led to events that changed the course of history forever. Two members of the Drake tennis team call these countries home. Both sophomores Anis Ghorbel and Mark Fouad were able to live normal lives while corruption was kept behind closed doors — until the two came to Drake.
For Anis Ghorbel, growing up in Sfax, Tunisia, felt no different than growing up in any other country. Like other Division I athletes, Ghorbel picked up tennis at a very young age. When he was just 10 years old, the Tunisian Tennis Federation witnessed him play and invited him to hit with other players who were under the federation’s supervision. By the age of 12, Ghorbel wasn’t spending much time in his home country, as the young Tunisian traveled to play in international tournaments against the world’s top juniors.
Ghorbel reached a career-high ranking of No. 297 in the world for junior players, and this earned him a spot on the Davis Cup team for his home country. The Davis Cup is a competition where each country has its top players go up against other countries’ top players. For example, Andy Roddick is one of the members of the United States squad, and Roger Federer plays for Switzerland. After graduating from high school, Ghorbel decided to continue playing tennis and to pursue a professional career. After a year in the minor league Futures circuit, Ghorbel decided to head to the United States to play Division I tennis.
Ghorbel was originally headed to California to play for UCLA, where one of his fellow Davis Cup teammates played. Due to his professional status, Ghorbel was ordered by the NCAA to sit out a year, and UCLA could not offer him a scholarship. Deterred by the university’s high tuition, Ghorbel looked elsewhere and was eventually recruited by former Drake head coach Jimmy Borendame.
After sitting out all of last year, Ghorbel made his start for the Bulldogs last fall. When revolution broke out in his home country, Ghorbel was busy training for the upcoming spring season with his fellow Drake teammates. Although the uprising had no effect on Ghorbel here, many of his fellow competitors and Davis Cup teammates were affected.
“Athletes didn’t want to go out and practice because they were worried about the violence in the streets,” Ghorbel said. “People aren’t as comfortable as they were before because they are just thinking about being safe.”
For this reason, Tunisia has been forced to cancel all upcoming tournaments at both the amateur and professional levels. Ghorbel said that the Tunisian Tennis Federation is still trying to convince sponsors, players and fans that Tunisia is a safe place again.
Fouad is from Cairo, Egypt, and he also spent much of his childhood traveling throughout Africa playing in International Tennis Federation tournaments. After a trip to the famous Bollettieri Tennis Academy, he decided to pursue Division I tennis. Recruited by former Drake head coach Chase Hodges, Fouad has spent the last two years playing for the Bulldogs.
As the uprising moved to his hometown just months ago, the Cairo native was faced with a stressful situation. Many of Fouad’s family members still reside in the capital city of Egypt where the riots were most extreme, but fortunately, his family remained unscathed.
“I was really concerned at the beginning for my family’s safety and then for the country in general,” Fouad said.
As the riots heated up, Fouad’s Facebook account featured statuses about his thoughts and prayers for his fellow Egyptians back home, but he did not attack former president Hosni Mubarak.
The country is now under military control, which makes transferring money out of Egypt practically impossible. Luckily, Fouad can still pay tuition because his father resides in Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, and he has numerous relatives living in the United States.
Like Tunisia, Egypt’s tennis tournaments have been canceled as well. Multiple tournaments were supposed to take place in February, but those were some of the first canceled. Athletes have continued to train, though, and many of Fouad’s friends are back to their daily routines.
The Cairo native is unsure whether or not he will return to Egypt this summer or if he will remain in the United States. Ghorbel, on the other hand, will spend the summer traveling throughout the United States playing in tournaments.
Right now both players are hopeful that their countries will return to peace and maintain a stable government so the people are safe. As Fouad said, they aren’t interested in the politics as much as they are concerned about the people.
“People just have to try to live as normal a life as possible,” Ghorbel said.
Gorbel turning heads in MVC
Sophomore Anis Ghorbel has enjoyed a fantastic season to help boost Drake to one of its best seasons in recent memory. As of April 21, the Tunisia native owns a 21-2 record in singles play this season, playing mostly from the fourth slot. Lately, Ghorbel has been bumped up to the second position and is now 3-0 from that spot. He has also paired up with senior Mauricio Ballivian to form a formidable No. 1 doubles duo which was ranked No. 72 in the country at one point this season.