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Darko Grncarov - the con man who convinced the world he was an aspiring tennis player

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Hands up those of you have told a little 'white lie' at one point or another in their lives.

Let's be honest, who hasn't embellished their claim to fame, especially if no one is going to get hurt from the story?

At first, you may think it is pretty cool to say you had a cameo role in a Hollywood blockbuster, appeared in a film clip of a big music artist, or made a few substitute appearances for your boyhood football team.

Before the days of the internet you may have been able to get away with such a tale, but in most cases, thanks to the search engines of the World Wide Web, the truth can be unlocked with a few clicks of the keyboard.

And that is exactly how Ben Rothenberg discovered the myth that was Darko Grncarov.

Macedonian Darko Grncarov believed he had a fine story to share with the world and from the outside, it was the kind of tale that would melt even the coldest-hearted person.

Here was a youngster starting out in the unforgiving world of tennis, where you have to be pretty strong mentally to make a living - especially when you are starting from scratch.

Success was to come early in a junior tournament in Holland in December 2014 and the adulation in his homeland came pretty shortly afterwards.

Macedonia had not produced a tennis star of any note so it was a major deal and a TV appearance was certainly a worthy reward for his victory.

With the trophy in the background, Grncarov spoke of his victory, however, it was not like your normal interview.

Instead of speaking about his individual success, Grncarov talked about the game in general terms.

Perhaps he was nervous, it was his first major interview after all.

A few months down the track in June 2015 and his next tournament was in Montenegro.

On this occasion, he lost 6-0 6-0 to his opponent Nicola Vukotic in qualifying.

Sure it isn't a nice score to lose by but even the better players have their bad days at the office.

Grncarov entered and subsequently withdrew from an ITF event in Egypt which was said to be his first pro tournament.

The records showed he did not take the court, but curiously the Macedonian media claimed that he had recorded two victories against his Russian and German opponents.

The audience lapped up every word and the buzz was growing by the day.

Grncarov's profile growth

Grncarov's Twitter account was exploding with new followers looking to join him on this unprecedented journey.

He tweeted about a number of things from his crush on ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger or his earnings in his career to date.

Anyone who was perceived to be a troll or doubter of his credentials was quickly pulled into line.

2016 was a very tough year for the young Macedonian, though, as he claimed to have suffered a stroke and subsequently went into a coma.

The rehabilitation was declared to be a long and gruelling ordeal as Grncarov documented on a long Instagram post.

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Global media started picking up on his inspirational comeback from French website TennisActu to The Metro in London who reported that the coma lasted six months,

There was also a deal of interest from news websites in Argentina, Italy, India and Japan.

Grncarov was then believed to be set to hit the practice courts with Serbian Victor Troicki a regular on the ATP circuit who had reached a peak of No 12 in the world.

Videos were regularly posted of his training and his online support base was growing by the day.

Grncarov also gained mass support for his stand on social issues like same-sex marriage.

Mainstream media were beginning to be fascinated by this warrior for equality, with BBC Five Live even getting an interview.

Grncarov was asked about his return to the sport he loved after his stroke and he said:

“I’m definitely ready to play.

"I was actually supposed to play this month and next month at ATP tournaments, but I recently lost a special person in my life which made me cancel my tournaments for the next two months.”

That person was his mother.

After that interview, Grncarov continued to gather support in the wider community, this time from Serena Williams no less.

Grncarov had openly been a supporter of Williams and took 'fellow player' and 2018 Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren to town over previous tweets he made criticising Williams.

Williams was gushing in her praise for the stance of Grncarov, reportedly sending a direct tweet to the youngster saying:

“Wow that’s an incredible story,” Williams reportedly wrote. “It’s people like you that inspire me. It will be my and Olympias honor to meet you soon! All my love! Xxx”

2018 Fed Cup First Round - Team USA v the Netherlands

The 23-time Grand Slam winner took her admiration a step further by following Grncarov on Twitter, which was another feather in the cap of the Macedonian.

However, a strange thing happened soon after, Grncarov deactivated his account.

That was only after esteemed tennis journalist for the New York Times and the website Slate, Ben Rothenburg, managed to secure an interview.

The plot unravels

The interview wasn't done by phone or video, instead Grncarov insisted it be done by direct message on Twitter.

He started by saying that his interaction with Williams was "by far my best moment ever and "I’m not gonna lie my heart stopped working for a few seconds hahaha.”

Grncarov then admitted a few truths about his own career.

The match he claimed to play in Montenegro (the 6-0 6-0 result), never occurred, instead blaming a glitch with the ITF database.

That was despite his 'opponent' on that day, Nikola Vukovic, insisting the match did take place.

Another mistruth Grncarov wanted to clear up was his 'success' in Holland back in 2014 which he acknowledged was not an official tournament.

However, he pointed the finger squarely at the Macedonian media for all the hype that ensued.

"People from Macedonia wanted to make something out of it because Macedonia is dying to have a tennis player for so long."

Despite this, Grncarov had big plans for the 2018 season mentioning a number of big tournaments that he had been hoping to qualify for.

He also accepted that the adversity he went through with his health had further increased his profile.

"I’m aware that everything that is happening to me is because of what I’ve been through.

"Call it lucky or whatever you want, but I’m aware it’s maybe not fair because there are so so many tennis players."

"Actual tennis players that have played tours and actively play tournaments.

"But hey, at the end in every bad situation there is something good.

"I’m just happy that I’m given so many chances doesn’t matter if it’s because of my story and I’m also gonna be on Ellen in March or April.

The turning point

Rothenburg queried Grncarov further on his coma, particularly on the timing of his serious illness as it appeared to coincide with the event in Egypt.

That is when Grncarov let his guard down.

"Ok it’s a fair question, no biggie but dude you seem so rude.

"That’s why I’m quitting it. When you actually have something good for me let me know, hopefully see you soon.

Rothenburg further pressed him on the various videos he has posted on Twitter and Instagram and again was given a short response.

"You don’t have the right to do this, unprofessional."

After the interview, Grncarov deactivated his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

All the fan sites dedicated to Grncarov also disappeared in the blink of an eye.

So you may ask yourself, does a person by the name of Dario Grncarov actually exist?

The answer to that question is yes and believe it or not, he did play tennis - just not the career he claimed, only ever playing one sanctioned match.

However he had a mythical alter ego that had everyone completely fooled and knew how to get a reaction.

Likewise, Victor Troicki was bewildered when questioned what it was like to train with Grncarov and whether he was looking forward to playing doubles with him in Miami in March.

"Great stories, wow I never heard of the guy.”

The way that this story was able to grow and grow without proper research by the Macedonian media was frankly staggering.

Finding the real truth about this saga might need the very best detectives from Scotland Yard to be on the case.

There are conflicting reports that this individual actually wants to be a player on the professional circuit.

Regarding the coma, some reports say it lasted just three days while others claim it lasted up to a year.

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Grncarov's mother who he said passed away is believed to be alive and well after being found on Facebook posting a few weeks after her supposed death.

Adidas and Wilson were believed to be sponsoring him, but both companies have made statements denying this was ever the case.

One thing is certain and that is Grncarov played an absolute blinder in hoodwinking the media and the tennis community at large.

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Topics:
Serena Williams
Tennis

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