When Elias Ymer, the number one Swedish tennis player of Ethiopian descent, watched ‘Dangal’ he could not stop tears from rolling down his eyes.
The story reminded him of his father’s struggle for him and his two younger brothers (Mikael and Rafael), who at one stage faced similar difficulties, if not opposition, while establishing themselves as tennis players in their adopted country.
“Ethiopia is known more for producing runners and it had nothing to do with tennis, so people started saying you can’t be tennis players,” Ymer said, recalling the days when his father had enrolled them at a club for learning tennis after taking refuge in Stockholm following his escape from the African country, gripped in a civil war.
“It’s not that people at the club stopped us from playing tennis but they questioned it. They thought we can only run. They said tennis is not for you guys. When I watched this movie on Thursday, I cried. It was same story. A father was struggling to help his girls to pursue a career in sport,” he said.
Now he is Sweden’s number one tennis player since Robin Soderling’s retirement in 2015 and the next best is his own younger brother Mikael, who is ranked 286.
Ymer, ranked 132 in world, on Friday reached the final of the KPIT Challenger after beating Bryaden Schnur 6-3 3-6 6-3.
The Aamir Khan-starrer Bollywood Blockbuster encapsulates the life story of wrestlers Geeta and Babita Phogat and their father Mahaveer Phogat, who fought with the system to establish her daughters in the traditional sport, dominated by men.
Ymer’s father, Wondoesen, who was a professional runner, escaped from Ethiopia when he was 18 years old.
“He never wanted to be part of the war. He was hiding. His elder sister had married a Swedish. My aunty suggested that he escapes to Sweden. He did when he was 18.
“My mother had studied medicine in Russia and wanted to work in Ethiopia as a doctor but because of the war, she could not go there. Someone offered her a job in Stockholm. Then they met in Sweden, this is amazing,” said Ymer.
Elias worked with Soderling, the 2009 and 2010 French Open finalist, but the partnership did not work since the former world number four did not want to travel.
Ymer, who qualified for all four Grand Slams in 2015, said he never liked running.
“I tried but I never liked it. I broke my father’s heart because he wanted me to be a runner,” said the 22-year-old, a winner of five Challenger titles.
Talking about his run in India, Ymer said he could not do well in Bengaluru because he flew straight from France after winning the Challenger in Mouilleron le Captif.
“I played a lot of tennis in the last few weeks and did not play my best tennis. The courts in France were slow. I could the hit the ball hard but here it is different. The ball is flying here. I had to be smarter,” he said when asked about his run in Pune.