Endemic tribal warfare, drought, disease, poverty – they are all major concerns to the 4.7 million people of Somalia, but not compared with the certain knowledge that, even as the tournament starts, the winner of the Mens’ Singles at Wimbledon will not be a Somali. No Somali has ever qualified for Wimbledon since it began in 1882.
Ibn Hussain Tariri, chief excecutive of the Lawn Tennis Association of Somalia, is the first to admit that the African nation’s record at tennis’s blue riband is not good. However, he is keen for this to be seen in context. ‘People laugh at us for 127 years of failure at Wimbledon but in all fairness it is only 93,’ he said ‘It was not until 1916 that the Italian governor general laid out the first court in the country.’
Since then, there have been many false dawns on the road to Wimbledon. The Husseini brothers led Somalia to a first round Davis Cup win against Djibouti in the 1970s but then disappeared in the Ogaden war. Twelve years ago, Hette Idriss cracked the world top 50,000, only to die in an armed raid on the US embassy. According to street legend in Mogadishu, he was hoping to steal a spare racket.
With current number one Hussein Daoud ranked 78,965 and both of the two courts in Mogadishu given over to grazing goats, the outlook appears grim. however, Tariri, an incurable optimist, said that sometimes he can almost smell the strawberries and cream.
‘It only takes one special player to end the national hurt,’ he says. ‘We did actually have a woman in the top 1,000 a few years ago, but of course we had to stone her to death for wearing a short white skirt in public.’