Jaroslav Drobný: The exile who won in tennis through Egypt
It was a scorching day in June 1954, when a tough and collected man in dark sunglasses won in tennis. The London crowd could not stop celebrating the new champion at Wimbledon. For the Western world, he was a beacon for democratic liberalism; to the east he was an evil communist exile. On paper, he was an Egyptian citizen – to this day the only Egyptian who has ever won Wimbledon.
His name was Jaroslav Drobný. He was the furthest from being an Egyptian, but found glory only through his Egyptian naturalization.
Drobný was born as a Czechoslovakian in Prague in 1921 and was a child of many athletic talents. Besides doing his Wimbledon debut as a 16-year-old in 1938, he was also a cornerstone of Czechoslovakia ice hockey national team. Despite his slick talents, his youth was not so slick.
The German invasion of Czechoslovakia introduced the prodigy of the sport to the horrors of war. Drobný spent World War II working at a factory in Praguewho witnessed torture and segregation in his community.
At the end of the war in 1945, Drobný saw a return to both tennis and ice hockey. He won gold and silver medals in the World Cup and Olympics for ice hockey respectively, but did not achieve the same success in tennis during this time.
Political unrest continued to distract Drobný, this time through the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Before the Soviet seismic shift of his motherland, Drobný had already visited Moscow in 1947looks “enough to do [him] realize it [he] could never live under such a regime. “
“Quite simply, I hated being told by a communist where and when I should play because it suited their political goals and ambitions. At that time, the Communists realized far better than Western democracies the enormous level of propaganda in international sports, “he wrote in his autobiography, A Champion in Exile (1955).
When the Communists in Prague began serving Soviet dialectics on tennis courts, Drobný refused to continue. In 1949, Drobný was determined to quit, do it during the Swiss Open in July.
“All I had was a pair of shirts, the familiar toothbrush and $ 50 (925 EGP),” he wrote.
Drobný var obliged to represent a country to participate in international tournaments. First, he jumped off to Switzerland, only to be met with rejection. So, America: rejected. Britain and Australia were his last shots – and once again Drobný was rejected.
In a state of statelessness, Drobný desperately needed a nationality to resume his tennis career. Then Egypt came to the rescue in 1950 and offered the citizenship that Drobný gladly accepted.
The Czechoslovak exile was now reborn as an Egyptian. Culturally, he was as much an alien before he was Egyptian as he was after his naturalization. Now a veteran of tennis at the age of 29, it was clear that Egypt would never become Drobny’s home. Though in the meantime Egypt was his salvation; his ticket to one last shot at the glory of tennis.
During his time in Cairo, the former Czechoslovak wanted train in Gezira Sporting Club to sharpen his skills, participates every year in the Egyptian Open tournament – won in a row from 1950 to 1953.
It was while representing Egypt that Drobný finally began to become the best in the world, winning singles tournaments for the first time in his career after decades of losing finals and semifinals. A back to back French Open victory in 1951 and 1952 was his first taste of glory, but Drobný still coveted the famous Wimbledon trophy – and lost the final once in 1949 and in 1952.
In 1954, at the age of 33 and by the swan song of his tennis career, Drobný finally achieved Wimbledon triumph. Known as ‘Old Drob’ at the timethe Egyptian Czechoslovakian carried an air of cool confidence throughout the tournament.
“[The Singles] is the most important title at Wimbledon, and if I was beaten early, I could have a pleasant holiday watching the other players, ”Drobný remarked during the start of the tournament.
He never got the chance to enjoy an early elimination vacation, which he joked about, reaching it all the way to the Wimbledon Singles final for the third time in his career. This time he won it though.
While I put on dark sunglasses, Drobný defeated Australian, Ken Rosewall, to finally lift the Wimbledon trophy. And he won it as an Egyptian. The only African Wimbledon champion today.
Drobny’s success story with Egypt would have an end after his naturalization to Great Britain in 1959. A year later, at the ripe old age of 39, the man with many flags ended his tennis career at a final Wimbledon tournament.
Drobný was always destined for greatness in tennis. It just so happened that he achieved all his glory as an Egyptian, as a representative of the land that offered him the chance to become a master.
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