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Trouble at Home
L. Jon Wertheim
July 10, 2000
Byron Black fought through the first week of Wimbledon while trying to keep his mind off political battles in his native Zimbabwe
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July 10, 2000

Trouble At Home

Byron Black fought through the first week of Wimbledon while trying to keep his mind off political battles in his native Zimbabwe

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It was no small feat for Byron Black to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time in his nine-year professional career. His play last week was all the more remarkable given that issues far weightier than tennis have been on his mind. As Black and his brother, Wayne, and sister, Cara, were playing their early-round matches at the All England Club, their native country, Zimbabwe, was awash in political turmoil.

In a highly contested election marked by intimidation, the assassination of an opposition candidate and more than 20 other deaths, the party of President Robert Mugabe narrowly retained control of Zimbabwe on June 27. Mugabe advocates, among other controversial policies, the redistribution of land—often through violent occupation—from white farm owners to members of the nation's black majority. Byron Black and his siblings, who are white, were raised on a 22-acre avocado farm outside the capital city, Harare, and have white friends whose property has been seized by armed squatters. "We're trying to follow the situation as best we can, but I'm also trying not to let it interfere with my tennis," Black said last Saturday. "It sounds like things have calmed down in the past few days."

Away from their country playing tennis during the election, none of the Blacks could cast a vote. Since they are prominent members of the racial minority in Zimbabwe—and were treated as national heroes during Zimbabwe's near upset of the U.S. in a Davis Cup play last February—they are reluctant to take much of a political stand. That Mugabe's wife, Grace, is a leading patron of Zimbabwean tennis further complicates their position. "I will say this: It's good that there's some competition, that there's now a party to keep the ruling party in check," says Byron. "Before this there was never any real opposition."

All three Blacks intend to settle in Zimbabwe when their playing careers end. Byron, who's ranked 52nd in the world but has been as high as 22, owns a flat in London, but he and his wife, Fiona, recently built a house near his parents' farm. Both brothers will have a better sense of the political climate when they return home next week to face Romania in a Davis Cup tie.

"You obviously play tennis for yourself," says Byron, "but I'd like to think that in some small way playing well at Wimbledon and playing Davis Cup is helping with unity at home, giving the people of Zimbabwe something positive to take their minds off the day-to-day."

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