Australian Open: Rafael Nadal describes ‘special’ meeting with Iran’s Meshkatolzahra Safi

Rada Nadal, Meshkatolzahra Safi

Meshkatolzahra Safi made history in the girls’ tournament at the Australian Open this year and her idol Rafael Nadal has praised the Iranian’s ‘fantastic’ achievement.

Safi became the first Iranian to win a match at a girls’ event at a major tournament –– defeating Australia’s Anja Nayar 6-4, 6-3 in the first round in Melbourne.

The 17-year-old also became the first tennis player to compete in a hijab at a Grand Slam, despite the scorching hot conditions in Australia.

After her win, Safi came face-to-face with her tennis idol Nadal, who first inspired her to take up tennis. The teenager said she started playing after watching a Nadal match on the television.

It was a special moment for Safi, and Nadal explained how delighted he was to have the chance to meet the rising star.

“I was in the corridor and somebody from the tournament just introduced me to her and explained to me a little bit the history,” he told The National.

Meshkatolzahra Safi

“For me it was a pleasure to know more about her, I think it’s amazing, her story; super special to see players from different parts of the world, especially parts of the world that historically we never had players on the tour.

“I think it’s fantastic to see a player from Iran that now is in the juniors and she already won a match. It’s a great story and it really was a pleasure to meet her.

“For me, it’s something special. If I am able to inspire anyone to help them to make positive decisions on the lives of the people, it’s something that I am very proud of,” said the Spaniard.

“In this particular case, if that helped her to try to play tennis and now she is where she is, it’s a big honour for me and I’m super happy for that.”

Other top tennis stars have praised the growth of the game in recent years and stressed the importance of having players from all over the world competing on the tour.

Women’s number one Ashleigh Barty cited Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur as one example. Jabeur became the first Arab tennis player to win a WTA title last year and is currently ranked 10th in the world.

“The growth in the women’s game is exceptional,” said Barty after her victory against Jessica Pegula to reach the last four at the Australian Open.

“The depth in our women’s game now on the professional side, there have been so many players that have inspired others to pick up a racquet or to dare to dream.

“One of the ones that comes to mind straight away is Ons, the way she’s been able to inspire a nation. I have known Ons for a very long time, and she was a lone wolf for a long time in her trade.

Now there are more people, more players on the men’s and women’s side or the girls and boys coming through, understanding it’s okay to dare to dream and to chase after it and have a go.”

Barty remains on course for a first Australian Open title and faces Madison Keys in the semi-finals tomorrow.

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