Home Away from Home: Argentinean Tennis Ace visits Armenia to share skill and experience with kinsmen

His victory in straight sets over Armenia’s Number One was easily predictable to say the least, but it could hardly stop the closely packed Armenian spectators at a small tennis court in Yerevan from celebrating the success as their own.

David Nalbandian, a golden boy of international tennis from Argentina, has always been regarded as ‘theirs’ by a large number of tennis fans in Armenia and throughout its worldwide Diaspora. His Armenian ancestry and surname ending in -ian and most importantly his attitude towards his historical homeland had made him extremely popular among Armenian tennis fans and shaped into a role model for many kids and teenagers in Armenia going in for tennis.

And now the 26-year-old tennis star, currently ranked 7th internationally, spent an afternoon in Yerevan to give a master class to local junior players and tennis-loving children and also to test Armenia’s top player Harutyun Sofyan in an exhibition match at the Master Class tennis club.

At a press conference before the match on Thursday, soft-spoken Nalbandian looked relaxed but at the same time a little overwhelmed by the reception he received in his historical homeland that he was briefly visiting for the first time at the invitation of prominent Argentinean-Armenian businessman Eduardo Eurnekian.

“I am very proud to be here in my second or almost first homeland,” Nalbandian said, setting the tone for the media event. “I really enjoy my first visit here. The tennis schedule is so tough and we have tournaments almost every week. But I am sure that after I stop playing tennis I will come often and will have more time to enjoy here.”

“Now I feel as if I have one foot in Argentina and one foot in Armenia,” he added.

Nalbandian, a descendant of a first-generation genocide survivor, made several achievements at junior level before turning professional in 2000. Two years after embarking on a professional career he already reached the final at Wimbledon, the most prestigious of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

The Argentinean-Armenian has won eight ATP titles in as many years and has stayed among the world’s leading pack of players throughout his career in professional tennis. Nalbandian climbed as high as the world’s N 3 in 2005. His achievements also include No. 1 player of the year titles for Argentina and South America.

Overall, Nalbandian is one of only five active players to have achieved the semifinals or better at all four Grand Slams, along with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin and Novak Djokovic.

Nalbandian has mentioned his Armenian origin several times in media interviews and now he says that he has always received huge support from Armenians at every tournament he has played.

“All the time I feel the support from Armenians. Everywhere that I’ve played there is somebody around,” he said.

The 5 ft 11 inch light-eyed blond who likes to sport a ponytail on the court says he doesn’t look exactly like an average Armenian guy probably because of his Italian mum’s gene, but he adds that nevertheless he feels Armenian in his spirit.

Nalbandian, who has many victories to cite, says his most memorable victory in tennis was when he was aged only 12 and -- not surprisingly for someone with an Armenian origin -- he devoted that victory to his family.

“Tennis is a hard game to play both physically and mentally. It takes a lot of courage and talent and requires constant training to develop this talent in order to get to the top,” Nalbandian says, adding: “Tennis is getting more competitive every year as young talented players keep coming in.”

But the Argentine, who despite his high international ranking has not yet won a single Grand Slam tournament, says he is keen on breaking his maiden in the near future.

The events with Nalbandian’s participation in Armenia were made possible by the Fruitfull Armenia organization in association with the Tennis Federation of Armenia and the Master Class tennis club and with Converse Bank’s sponsorship.