Tanios Kanaan: the one-man show of Lebanese tennis

Kanaan talks to Lebanon No. 1 Beidas.

BEIRUT: For nearly 30 years, Tanios Kanaan has spearheaded the Lebanese tennis federation; his exploits and stringent dedication have kept the game afloat, with tennis gradually improving as years go by.

But the federation remains a one-man show: the Tanios Kanaan show. There are no members, no delegates and no fancy headquarters with a pretty secretary.

Lebanon demands a far more nitty-gritty approach, one that requires the pushing of the envelope, while getting your hands dirty. Kanaan has always embodied these traits, striving to resuscitate a sport that was on life support not that long ago.

With all the shortcomings firmly in the past, Kanaan has set his sights on the future with youth at the forefront of his mind.

‘I’m planning an under-10’s tennis program with no losers; all the kids will pick up medals at the end of the day after partaking in round robin groups. We want the parents to join as well, so we can really push the youth in the country,’ Kanaan said.

Rising stars such as Nancy Karaaki and Carl Sayoun have decisively validated Kanaan’s selfless service to the upbringing and nurturing of the young generation. They are the fruits of his labor, and an indicator of the heights Lebanese players can reach if the proper amount of effort is made.

Kanaan has been an employee of the Lebanese tennis federation since 1983, when he began his ascension to the professional world of international tennis umpiring, a trade which he still plies to this day during the offseason. And essentially for over two decades, Kanaan has been the life support for Lebanese tennis, with the sport for many years teetering perilously close to oblivion.

Tennis is a supremely prestigious and revered game, at which a select few are capable of excelling Yet against the odds, Lebanese players continue to shine and punch over their weight while operating on a shoestring budget. Perish the thought that the government may lend a helping hand or cushion the financial blow that many of the player’s parents endure and absorb. Instead, the local talent continues to be overlooked, stifled and alienated, and in the process rendered nothing short of sporting pariahs.

The parents of Bassam Beidas, Lebanon’s unequivocal No. 1, were well aware of the traps and shortcomings of Lebanese sports, and they moved swiftly and accordingly to afford their prodigious son a more prosperous career, with Beidas reaching as high as 499 in the ATP tennis rankings.

Kanaan is ever vocal in his premonitions for a better state in the future.

“I’m not going to lie, although I can’t fully criticize the federation for which I work,” Kanaan said. “There are many mistakes inherent in the federation, but with that being said it’s not the worst federation in the world. I believe an interior reconstruction is necessary, where those in charge all the way across to the employees, are employed at a full-time capacity and rewarded accordingly.

“And most important of all, a full-time treasurer or manager for the federation must be put into place, where his role falls under the full-time premise, and he can head the everyday goings and comings of Lebanese tennis. Currently, we fail to gain any traction, communicating through emails, which are postponing and slowing our habitual affairs.”

Sadly, Lebanon has failed to produce a single tennis academy, which is the engine behind every country’s crop of talent.

Lebanon’s crooked coaches continue to demand a ridiculously exorbitant amount of money for private lessons, with the cheapest price starting at a staggering $30 for a 45 minute session. Yet talented players consistently rise from these suffocating drawbacks to hammer the point home even further. Lebanese players are nothing more than amateur athletes, who ply one trade by day and another by night. Following the normal nine to five excursions, players race to the courts to make a 6 p.m. match, where by the week’s end, the tournament’s winner is lucky to make anything more than a measly $300. The ludicrous nature of this travesty must be addressed. And Kanaan has ideas of his own.

“I plan to enter next year’s elections, and enter the management listings. I think it’s my duty to pursue this matter; after all I have lived with these players for 27 years. They trust me and respect me, I do to. I believe I will receive, the necessary backing from the players, and the clubs involved in the voting process. Hopefully if I attain management status, I can completely revamp the system, and breathe new life into Lebanese tennis.”

Kanaan is well aware of what is needed for an upheaval and renaissance of the sport. But unfortunately in many instances, his hands are tied, and he is simply helpless to remedy the situation. Kanaan wears his heart on his sleeve, and his affection for the sport and the players involved is unwavering.

Under his tutelage, the game has improved by leaps and bounds with previous tournament registration ranging from 20 to 40 participants. Thursday’s Collina Open boasted an incredible 70 players for the men’s draw, an admirable feat for a man working with nonexistent means.

But the next step will require a collective effort, rather than pouring all of the weight and expectations on one man’s shoulders

Kanaan lamented the country’s inability and unwillingness to capitalize on and propagate the international credentials of Bassam Beidas across the country.

“Take Bassam Beidas for instance, why haven’t we utilized Bassam to improve the quality and exposure of the local game? Why didn’t we take Bassam around the country, introduce him to budding players, and have him tell them of how he managed to break onto the ATP scene?

“These kids could have used that information as a springboard and inspiration to fuel their ambitions and hopes. We don’t have a plan. Sometimes we make a plan, but we never implement it. At the end of the day, how many watermelons can I carry?”

Unfortunately Kanaan has echoed the words of many Lebanese, with the local impresario contemplating a life abroad. Tennis has always brought the man joy, perspective and years of memories, yet it has never rewarded him financially. One fears for the future of local tennis without Kanaan at the helm. But the man’s heart bleeds for the game, and he has cultivated a relationship of such affection with the players that it will surely prevent the one-man show from taking his services elsewhere.





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