Marwan Rashad Janahi, the teenaged tennis wunderkind who created history last month by becoming the first Bahraini to qualify for the Wimbledon Under-14 Championship, has his sights set on becoming a professional tennis player one day.
“It would be nice to be able to do that,” the shy 13-year-old told the GDN in a telephone call from London where he was spending the day with his family.
Based in England since his family moved from Bahrain to Bedford in 2016, Marwan laughed as he recounted how he celebrated his qualification for one of the world’s biggest junior tournaments.
“I was just very happy,” he said, simply. “The entire family went out to dinner to celebrate.”
Marwan’s achievement was all the more remarkable because he was among the nearly 200 players that made it into the tournament’s main draw out of the more than 10,000 players from around the world who participated in the qualifying round, his father said.
“Marwan played wonderfully well and won all his matches in the qualifying round,” Rashad Janahi, a businessman, told the GDN, proudly. “We always believed he would achieve something special as a tennis player since he first started playing the game as a young child.”
Marwan’s journey in tennis began when he was just three years old, he added.
“Marwan took up the game because of his elder brother, Esam, who is two years older and was already playing tennis,” Janahi continued. “Even at that young age, everyone could tell that Marwan was quite gifted.
“As they grew older, Esam lost interest in tennis and gravitated towards basketball, but Marwan continued to play and improve. He became so good that, at the age of six, he was beating players much older than him.”
Abdul Rahman Shehab, a Bahraini coach and former GCC tennis champion in the 1990s, first saw Marwan play when the little boy was about seven years old.
“I was extremely surprised to see such a rare talent,” he told the GDN. “It wasn’t just about Marwan’s playing ability. I could see that he was the complete package. At age seven, he understood the need for focus, the need for training; he had the ability to analyse his own game and, when I started coaching him then, it was as if I was dealing with an 18-year-old. That’s how much wiser he was beyond his age.”
Marwan’s current coach, Mat Dunkley, who is the head of performance at a tennis academy in Bedford, agreed with Shehab.
“He’s very calm on court,” Dunkley, who has been coaching Marwan for the past year-and-a-half, told the GDN. “He thinks his way through things. He’s not loud or aggressive. And he’s technically very good, his technique is excellent and he’s always working on his fitness. He puts in a lot of work off the court and all that has contributed to his improvement.”
And Marwan did well in the Wimbledon Under-14 tournament’s main draw, despite being younger than his opponents, Dunkley added.
“He’s still only 13, while all the other players were 14,” he explained. “Despite that, he finished third in his group, winning one game and losing two. This experience will help him next year when he returns to play in the championship, because he’ll still be in the under-14 bracket.”
Marwan, meanwhile, hasn’t allowed the long hours he spends training for, and playing in, competitions to affect his studies.
“I have a balanced schedule,” the Year Eight student explained. “I do lots of training and work on my fitness, maybe 16-18 hours a week. But I’m good at my studies too and science is one of my favourite subjects.”
Recently, in a boost for the young tennis star, Marwan’s outstanding rise through the ranks of international junior tennis earned him a sponsorship deal with one of the world’s leading sports brands.
The teenager likes to watch Grand Slam tournaments too and was glued to the television on Wednesday night to see Serena Williams play her US Open second-round match against world number 2, Anett Kontaveit.
“Serena is just incredible,” Marwan said, admiringly. “This was just her sixth match after an 11-month layoff and, at age 40, she showed all of us again why she is among the greatest players of all time!”
Surprisingly, the teenager’s favourite male tennis player is not Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or even Novak Djokovic.
“I like (2020 US Open champion) Dominic Thiem,” Marwan revealed. “I like his style of play.”
But he doesn’t try to copy Thiem.
“I have my own style,” Marwan declared. “I think it works well for me.”