Shala Park ClubBy Mark Jenkin, The Reporter

In the blazing heat of the afternoon sunshine, two tennis players are competing ferociously on a clay court.

As the dust flies up, the way they exchange long rallies, contest every point and show respect for each other, evokes comparisons of Rafael Nadal taking on Roger Federer at the French Open.

But this is not the famous Roland Garros professional tournament which takes place in Paris every May and June. This is Addis Ababa in October and merely a friendly encounter between two enthusiastic amateurs playing for the love of the game.

Ayana Abebe, a lawyer, and Hailu Belay, a retired electrical engineer, compete regularly at the Shala Park Club, a facility which has been open for 17 years in Bole sub-City. On this occasion, Ayana sends down the winning shot to secure the victory by two sets to love.

While Ethiopia is renowned for the brilliance of its athletes and the passion of its football supporters, clubs like Shala, which has two courts and 70 members, prove tennis has a part to play in the nation’s sporting culture too. Hailu, who first started playing in 2006, said: “I tried all sports like football, volleyball and bowling. Nowadays my favorite sport is tennis. “We have a tennis community and we are enjoying it. It’s so friendly. I wanted a pastime and it’s good for health and exercise.”

Four years ago, Roger Federer visited Ethiopia with his charity foundation. The Swiss star, a seven-time winner of the Wimbledon Championship, is said by many to be the greatest player of all time. It was hoped his influence would inspire more Ethiopians to take up the game.

However, there are only a handful of tennis clubs in Addis Ababa. So, demand for court space often outstrips supply. Although financial restraints can prevent some young players joining a club, at Shala there is plenty of encouragement with youngsters starting out as ball boys.

Read more: The Reporter

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