Rising Egyptian star needs sponsor

Youssef Hossam (AFP)

Egypt's Youssef Hossam, the only tennis player in Africa and the Arab world on the world junior rankings, is struggling to find a sponsor to support his promising career.

The three-time African Junior Champion from 2014 to 2016 is currently 334th on the ATP rankings, but a promising 22nd in the world junior rankings.

Yet the player as well as his coaches say all this talent may fail to reach its potential without a sponsor to finance a team to guide Hossam towards his dreams.

Right now the 19-year-old Hossam is studying English at Misr University for Science & Technology, in Cairo's western suburbs.

There, he spends most of his time on the university's tennis court with his older brother Karim.

English "is the least restrictive of the studies in terms of attendance," said Hossam, smiling, who chose tennis in a country where football is the national sport.

"I liked the idea of playing in a discipline little practised by others," boasted the young person from Cairo who dreams of competing at Wimbledon in London.

Brother's footsteps

Though the 19-year-old who now trains often in France was initially following in his elder brother's footsteps, he quickly surpassed him.

"Roger Federer is my idol, but my greatest role model is still my brother," he said after a training session with his brother under Cairo's harsh September sun.

Kerei Abakar, his coach at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Nice sees him as a potential champion with "an above-average technique, an arm of fire."

Still, his coach stresses that "an exceptional potential does not make a tennis player," adding that "Youssef Hossam misses structure, framework, and sponsors to match his own level."

His casual tennis partner, Marius Barzu, a Romanian tennis coach at Youssef Hossam's university, expressed reserved enthusiasm.

"Three years ago, I used to beat him 6-0 6-0. Today, it's the opposite. His progress is impressive," said the former athlete.

"He could be among the top 100 best players in the world, but the challenge for him now is to find a financial backer who would make him a star," said Barzu.

He does have a Japanese brand backing him, Yonex, but it only provides him with clothing and equipment.

"We were looking for young people with great potential, therefore when we suggested Youssef Hossam, Yonex accepted immediately," said Sherif Nafie who represents the brand in Egypt.

Hossam, who lives in an upscale neighbourhood in Cairo and drives a Jaguar, shows maturity with his focus and realistic approach to his goals which he knows he is able to follow thanks to the financial support of his father, who owns a large furnishing company.

Compete with heavyweights

However, all the funds of an upper income family in Cairo cannot compete with international tennis heavyweights.

It takes a full-time coach, a personal doctor, a fitness coach: a whole team that surrounds the athlete so "that things go as they should," said Youssef Hossam.

The national tennis federation helps as much as it can, Hossam said. "Things have improved lately but it is obviously not enough," he said, as in 2016 he received a total of between 5,000 and 6,000 Egyptian pounds, some 300 euros.

Youssef Hossam is hopeful about his objective: to reach the world's top 100 players, which has not materialised for an Egyptian since Ismail el-Shafei in the 1970s.

"I'm optimistic. Things are going well for me," he said.