Among the hundreds of fans streaming into Louis Armstrong Stadium to watch Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Germany’s Tommy Haas play in the third round of the U.S. Open on Sept. 1, were two Temple tennis players, freshman Anais Nussanme and junior Kristian Marquart.
Marquart was there to watch his long-time role model Youzhny, who is currently ranked No. 21 in the world, by the Association of Tennis Professionals.
“I sat in his box,” Marquart said. “It was crazy. That was his box, where his coach, his wife and I sat.”
Youzhny won in a decisive fifth set, which advanced him to the fourth round and later to the quarterfinals, where he played against tennis superstar Novak Djokovic.
“His wife told me right after the match that I brought him a little bit of luck,” Marquart said.
At 8-years-old, Marquart began playing tennis in Russia, where he was born, at the renowned Spartak Tennis Club, where Youzhny also practiced.
“He is one of my favorite players,” Marquart said. “I really liked how motivated he was when he came to practices.”
Marquart later moved to Germany, where his parents remained in contact with Youzhnzy and his coach. Unlike his parents, Marquart has had limited interactions with Youzhny until recently.
“Every year he comes to Munich, my home city, to renew his inlace [otherwise known as insoles],” Marquart said. “A good company does them for professional soccer and tennis players [in Munich]. Last year, when he came, I picked him up from the airport and took him to the shoe place where they examine his feet to see how he walks, and then makes the inlace to fit his feet. [Afterwards], we went to drink coffee and then I brought him back.”
Although Marquart has not played or practiced with Youzhny, he has followed some of his matches and has learned from his game.
“The type of game he has is nothing special, but it is effective,” Marquart said. “He doesn’t have a special stroke or a huge serve like John Isner, or so much spin on the ball like [Rafael] Nadal but he just plays everything good. He doesn’t create errors, he keeps the ball in play and he plays smart.”
“My German coach Thomas Perchtold always tells me to play what [I] can and not what [I] dream about,” Marquart said.
That is the same principle Marquart tries to evoke upon a very young Temple men’s team as the fall season begins.
A couple other members on the tennis team have had similar relationships on smaller scales.
Sophomore Moroccan native Hicham Belkssir and sophomore Santiago Canete from Spain, are no strangers to professional tennis players. In Spain, the Federacion de Tennis de Madrid, where Canete has practiced, is a hub for professional tennis players whom Canete has played with.
“Fernando Verdasco,” who had a career high ranking of seven but is currently No. 30 in the world, “plays there sometimes. He beat Nadal a couple of times. Daniel Munoz de la Nava, who is No. 120 in the world, I practiced with him for a couple of days,” Canete said.
Canete has built close relationships with a couple of Spanish pro players, such as Adam Sanjurjo and Roberto Ortega, who have had career-high rankings of 748 and 403, respectively.
“[Sanjurjo] and [Ortega] are my good friends,” Canete said. “I practiced with [them] almost for a year before coming to Temple. [After practices], we did what normal friends do.”
Over the course of the summer, Canete played in a few International Tennis Federation pro circuit Futures tournaments in Madrid.
“It was good,” Canete said. “I think I won one or two matches of the qualifying but I lost in qualifying.”
Belkssir has also had his fair share of interactions with pro tennis athletes through the club he practices at in Morocco and International Tennis Federation tournaments.
Moroccan tennis pro Yassine Idmbarek has developed a close relationship with Belkssir.
“He watches my games when he can,” said Belkssir. “We play soccer and go out for dinner.”
Belkssir is also familiar with a few other Moroccan players.
“Mehdi Ziadi and Hicham Khaddar, I met them in my club when I was younger,” Belkssir said. “Since I was there, they were the best in the club. I don’t really practice with them because they are really good.”
With the experiences the players have garnered during their interactions with these pro athletes, they are motivated more than ever to play in the new conference.
“We are going to face some of the best teams in the U.S. by being in this conference,” Marquart said. “One day, every one of us on the team can say that we played in one of the toughest conferences, and that will always be an accomplishment.”
Danielle Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Dan_Nels.