DAMIR DZUMHUR is developing a reputation as one of world tennis’s up and coming giant-killers.
Before his second visit to Liverpool last summer, he forced the great Rafael Nadal to mutter ‘No mas’ and limp wearily off a Miami Open court in searing temperatures. Nadal trailed 6-2, 4-6 0-3 at the time.
A few weeks later he took out Tomas Berdych at the Monte-Carlo Masters – and in February this year made the considerable conquest of Stan Wawrinka in Dubai.
But people should not be surprised by Dzumhur’s refusal to accept odds stacked against him.
He was born in Sarajevo in May 1992 – exactly a month after Serbian forces had laid siege to the city – and just two days after he came kicking and screaming into the world the hospital in which he was delivered was evacuated because of Serbian shelling.
His father Nerfid, a Bosnian Muslim, did not meet his son until he was 10-months old, having been away from Sarajevo when the Serbs began their blockade.
Damir says he has no memory of the war and his parents prefer not to talk about it.
“They prefer to live in the present.
But the genes which saw Dzumhur outlast Nadal and topple Wawrinka had clearly been inherited from his tennis coach father, who, realising that playing tennis outside during the war was too dangerous, created a makeshift court in a school gym.
That’s where Dzumhur swung his first racquet and once the war ended he was able to begin a normal training regimen, and eventually rose to number three in the ITF junior rankings in 2010.
Dzumhur admits the most important lesson his father taught him was:
“To always fight. I am trying to be a fighter. Sometimes I give up too early but it’s the most important thing.
If Damir’s rise to tennis stardom was unlikely, so, too, was how he funded his early tennis career.
The first paycheck Damir Dzumhur ever banked was as a movie star.
As a child actor Dzumhur starred in two movies about the Balkan conflict – a minor role in the award winning Grbavica which won the top prize, the Golden Bear, at the Berlin International Film Festival – then a starring role in Mörderischer Frieden -“Snipers Valley” – in 2007.
“I was acting in two movies. I had some more chances to be in movies in a period after that,
“But I was already travelling the world for tennis. I was 14 when I was acting in that first movie. Tennis was already No. 1 for me so I never was choosing between acting and tennis.
Snipers Valley was about a Kosovar Albanian teenager–-played by Dzumhur—pursuing vengeance in the wake of the Kosovo War. Dzumhur said that he hopes to return to acting after his tennis career.
“I would love to do it,
“It’s one of my life goals. It’s something that I do naturally; I don’t have to act too much because I feel good in front of the camera.
But tennis is the sole priority for now.
Two years ago he faced Roger Federer across a net for the first time at the French Open.
“For me it was like a dream come true,
“He was my idol and I was dreaming of playing him. Then, in just 20 days, I played him at Roland Garros centre court, and then on Wimbledon’s centre court.
“After the second time, I said, ‘That’s enough. That’s enough. I don’t need any more.. I wanted once but not that many.’
Playing Wimbledon centre court against Roger was an amazing feeling. The first one at Roland Garros I was playing really good and it was a good fight. But at Wimbledon I didn’t really have a chance. Playing against Roger there, it’s like his home.
I remember getting into the court. I was the first who got on the court. I got a big applause but then Roger when he got in, he got 10 times more applause.
And after my applause, I thought no applause could be bigger. And his was 10 times bigger, and I was thinking, ‘OK, that’s enough!’
Dzumhur received the loudest applause at last summer’s Liverpool International.
A finalist in 2015, last summer he scored his first title triumph on grass as he saw off Paolo Lorenzi in the men’s singles final at the Liverpool Hope University Tennis Tournament.
He hopes to repeat the achievement – and the ovation – this summer at Liverpool Cricket Club.