Damir Dzumhur: Fighting every day

Varun Jog
Modified 17 Jan 2014, 14:26 IST
Damir Dzumhur serves during his match against Tomas Berdych at the 2014 Australian Open

Damir Dzumhur serves during his match against Tomas Berdych at the 2014 Australian Open

One of the main pet peeves of the players at this year’s Australian Open has been the heat. It’s been the cause of numerous retirements, calls for change by the players, and extreme heat policies being invoked by the organisers. But for 21-year-old Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, just being here is a blessing. That’s because Dzumhur (whose name is pronounced Dah-Meer Joom-Hoor) is a survivor.

Dzumhur lost to Tomas Berdych in the third round 4-6, 2-6, 2-6 earlier today, but that’s not his only claim to fame. The first player from his country to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam, Dzumhur has had to fight against the odds all his life,  things which ordinary people would not even dream of. Let’s have a look at his incredible journey:

Dzumhur’s early life

Dzumhur was born in 1992 in Sarajevo, a month after his country was plunged into war. The hospital that he was born in had to be evacuated just a day after he was born, which meant temporary shelter with his mother and his father’s brother. It was eight months before his father, who was stranded in a town 30 miles away, even got to see his first-born child.

Dzumhur’s father was a tennis coach, and after returning to Sarajevo, he set up a tennis club with his friend. In a country that still has only 57 tennis clubs, it was a blessing for Damir that he had one so close to home. The youngster was drawn to the game at the age of 3, just as the war began to recede. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Dzumhur takes to tennis

Damir has grown up amid adversity, playing on all sorts of surfaces, anything he could find really. In his own words, “Even today, we have only one normal hard court in the whole of Sarajevo. It was made this year. Before then, I was practising on some surfaces that don’t even exist in tennis. So it was really tough, especially at the start.”

He had a stellar junior career, being ranked as high as No.3 in the world, before finally turning pro and starting to play on the futures and challenger circuits. When this year’s Australian Open came around, he was ranked No.188. Now, after winning three qualifying matches to become the first Bosnian to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam, Dzumhur also won his matches in the first two rounds, creating a name for himself and earning the praise of World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, who had to go through similar hardships during his early days.

Reaching the 3rd round at the Australian Open – a major milestone

The effect of reaching the third round though, do not stop at ranking and prestige for the young man. Financing himself on what can be a very tough tour if you are not a top 100 player was getting harder and harder. Dzumhur, till now, was relying on the backing of his parents and his two sponsors – one in the USA and one in Bosnia. However, reaching the third round means he will take home $75,000 this week, which is big bucks for a man whose career earnings thus far have been $93,796.

Dzumhur’s ranking is set to propel him into the Top 150, which means less qualifying for tournaments and easier entry into the bigger tournaments. In his own words, “The fear of playing qualifying was you play three matches, you get tired, then you don’t get anything, enough points or money. But this tournament here will change everything, definitely. I was trying to play good and I knew that if you play good, all [the money] will come. Finally that day came when I can say I earned enough to cover my expenses for the rest of the year.”


Dzumhur’s popularity – bringing the feel-good factor to Melbourne

From the looks of it, the man has no shortage of fans. Both his matches thus far at the Australian Open have been filled with noisy fans, especially the second round against Ivan Dodig of Croatia, which was a significant match for many reasons. With Melbourne having a sizeable community of Bosnian origin, Dzumhur almost feels at home here. The spectators do their best to support their hero, the man who is helping put Bosnia on the map. With his performances here, and many an article like this one being written about him, it is safe to say that he will only get more popular as time passes.

This, however, is just the start for Damir Dzumhur. His goal is to break into the top 100 this year. However, I’m sure deep down he feels, and knows, that he has already achieved his goal. Of surviving, of being on the world stage, of making his country proud.

The story of Dzumhur is truly one of the feel-good stories of this year’s Australian Open.

Published 17 Jan 2014, 14:20 IST
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