Yusuf Karim


Yusuf Karim - The king of the Mombasa tennis courts, enjoyed unchallenged supremacy for twenty five years before finally bowing out in 1977. No other tennis player in Kenyan history enjoyed such distinction. The king of the Mombasa tennis courts, Yusuf Karim, enjoyed unchallenged supremacy for twenty five years before finally bowing out in 1977 at 43 years of age. Karim first won the Mombasa tennis crown when he was a green 16 year old schoolboy in 1950. He liked the feeling so much that he continued winning the singles title every year from then on until he found himself facing his own sixteen year old son, Aarif in the finals of 1976. He won that final having completed a silver jubilee of championships, and finally decided to quit the singles event. Karim would hardly pass for the remarkable athlete he was 24 years ago. Sports, however continues to be Karim's dominating interest in life. He ran a sports goods shop in Mombasa. Although tennis had been Karims' main focus, he had done equally well in almost all the games he had ever taken part in. People still continue to debate whether Karim might have been an even better cricketer than a better tennis player had he concentrated on that game. After all he was the only double international from the coast, having played for Kenya in cricket in 1957 and tennis during the 1974 second All Africa Championships in Cairo. During the short time that Karim played cricket he captained the Mombasa Jaffery Sport Club for seven seasons and hit 18 first class centuries. In 1956 the MCC Coach Millie Witkins advised Karim to take up country cricket in the UK after watching him hit an easy century. However, tennis remained the first love and with his business demanding more time, Karim left cricket and volleyball to concentrate on that sport. Besides winning the Mombasa residents championships every year, for 25 years Karim became an almost unbeatable player in the Kenya Coast open championships, a competition that attracted the top players from all over East Africa and overseas. His record in the Coast Open is an imposing 13 singles, eight men's doubles and four mixed doubles crowns. In 1961, Yusuf Karim decided to try his skill on the unfamiliar murram courts at Nairobi during the Kenya Open Tennis Championships. He caused an immediate sensation when, as an unseeded player, he beat the holder and top seeds Hon Harris in his first round. This was the first time that such a thing had happened in the history of the Kenya Lawn Tennis Association championships and Karims' progress in the tourney became the focus of all attention. Unfortunately he lost in the semi finals. Although Karim continued to enter the Kenya Open championships, he rarely got beyond the third round or the quarter finals stages although, when the very same players who has beaten him in Nairobi came to play in Mombasa, Karim overcame them very easily. He realized that murram courts were alien to his style of play and henceforth applied himself only to the cement courts with which he was familiar. In 1964, he toured Tanzania and swept the board in their national open championships, taking the singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles. Back in his familiar element, Karim played several exhibition matches against world class players like Huge Stewart, Donald Dell, Owen Williams and Billy Knight, giving all of them an excellent run for their money. Karims' continued victories soon became a favourite topic of speculation among the Coast's sports fans. Every year people gathered at the Mvita Tennis Courts to see if "Karim can do it again this year". He did. Then speculation turned to "Can't anyone stop Karim?" No one could, although many tried. Perhaps the hardest effort of all was by the late Taj Mohammed who reached the finals against Karim seven times and lost all. Karim speaks respectfully about his past opponents and considers Taj Mohammed as one of the best tennis player to emerge from the coast. Talking about his game, Karim says he mainly relied on passing shots to win his points. He always studied his opponents and exploited their weak spots. On the courts, Karim was always a deceptively easy looking player, always calm and unruffled and despite his strong physique, rarely employing power shots. Yet the most familiar sight for the spectators whenever Karim was playing was that of his opponent charging off in one direction while the ball dropped in the opposite direction. Asked who had given him his toughest fight in the Coast Open championship. Karim singled out the Swiss Marcel Gauchi who had won the Kenya open. His most difficult opponents had always been players who employed the same style as himself; Control and placing. The fast hard-hitting players Karim found easiest to handle. In 1977 Karim hang up his racket to clear the way for his sons. Aarif was a champion tennis player and his other son Aasif went on to become a double international like his father, featuring for Kenya both in tennis and cricket. In spite of the 200 odd trophies that clutter his house, Karim did not regret having had proper coaching and having had to learn all about the game himself. Perhaps this is why he was concerned about youngsters playing tennis and was always trying to arrange for proper training to be given to talented players. Many people believe that had Karim been properly coached, he would certainly have made a world mark and Kenya may well have had a Wimbledon champion in her sports honours list. As it is, Karim's unbroken series of championships is most likelihood a world record in its own right. Karim dominated Mombasa tennis to such an extent that it is difficult to think of the game without him. He was deservedly a tennis legend.

Compiler: Sports Monthly, Nairobi

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