Aljaz Bedene is no ordinary tennis player. Despite being World #52 and getting to the second round of Roland Garros by defeating Ryan Harrison, the World #42, it is easy to forget why he causes so much controversy. Bedene’s story is unique because it goes beyond tennis. His much-documented battle between Slovenian and British citizenship has followed him constantly over the past two years. The Ljubljana-born Brit has incessantly tried to revoke the International Tennis Federation’s ban, which prevents him from representing Great Britain in the Davis Cup because of his previous appearances for Slovenia. Having recently said that he wants to compete at the Olympic Games, it appears as though Bedene is, once again, in a state of limbo. It is unclear as to who he wants to represent, whether Slovenia, or Britain. The irony is that Bedene, who once nearly gave up the sport for good due to issues over his nationality, is now playing the best tennis of his career. As a result, this week could be pivotal both for Bedene’s career, as well as for tennis on the whole.
Bedene’s good form during this year’s clay court season is unsurprising. He has successfully built his form up through the ATP Challenger circuit, and it appears to be paying off. His only losses so far have come to Milos Raonic, Lucas Pouille, and Novak Djokovic, all of whom are in the world’s top 20. Is he capable of doing what Andre Agassi did in 1997, and use the Challenger circuit to shoot up the rankings? Probably not. Agassi was in a different situation to the one that Bedene sees himself in now, but Bedene can still learn from the man now Novak Djokovic’s coach. Bedene needs to make sure that his tennis does the talking this week, not his off-court situation. This tournament is huge for Bedene, and the draw favors him. Wednesday, he plays Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic, who is ranked five places below him and who is no clay court specialist, unlike Bedene. He is probably not going to get many better opportunities to reach the third round in a Grand Slam in his career, so he really needs to take this one.
It is vital that Bedene refuses to comment on issues surrounding his nationality. At this stage in his career, if he is to fulfill his professional and personal goals, he must not let the legal procedures regarding his nationality (the ITF refuted his latest appeal to play for Britain in the Davis Cup in March) influence his performance like it has done for the past two years. Bedene is an extremely talented, rare example of a British player who specialises on clay. He should be known for his performances on-court, as opposed to questions surrounding his nationality. He made the mistake of commenting on this after his win over Harrison, which was unnecessary. If Bedene is to become one of Britain’s best tennis players, he should leave the talking to the lawyers and to people he trusts, as opposed to detracting attention from what could be the first memorable victory of many.
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