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Ilhan Creates History For Turkey

Day 1

Marsel Ilhan© Getty ImagesMarsel Ilhan moved to Turkey five years ago.

Marsel Ilhan created history at Flushing Meadows Monday when he became the first Turkish men's player to ever win a main draw match at a Grand Slam tournament. In truth, Ilhan had created history late last week when he won three qualifying matches to become the first Turkish player to ever take his place in the main draw of a major. Upon qualifying, Ilhan set himself the goal of reaching the third round and is now half way there after rallying to beat experienced Belgian Christophe Rochus 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 7-5 after serving 15 aces and breaking serve eight times.

Ilhan, 22, was born in Uzbekistan but moved with his mother to Istanbul five years ago for a better life and to further his tennis career. “I love Turkey very much and I do everything for Turkey. I have Turkish roots, I have so many friends there and the countries are very similar in their cultures.  And the Turkish Tennis Federation has supported me for the last two years, which has allowed me to travel with my coach [Can Uner]. I couldn’t find a sponsor in Uzbekistan.”

Ilhan, who lost his father at 14, says that he could afford to play only a handful of domestic tournaments each year and that finding money for equipment was a constant struggle. “My family lived on about $50 a month, so there was no chance to travel to tournaments. Racquets, balls, string, courts… everything was a problem. String was the biggest problem. It was so expensive and there were times I couldn’t practise because I couldn’t get my racquet strung. Balls were also a problem. I couldn’t afford to practise with new balls before a tournament. And we just had one indoor court in Samarkand, with 20 or 25 guys wanting to play.”

“I think if I had the opportunities that many players have, that I could be a Top 50 player by now. But I want to play for a minimum of 10 years, so I have time. Now that I have had this success I want more, more, more. “

In the second round Ilhan will play big-serving American John Isner.

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© Zeynep Sezerman


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