By Harold Gutmann
When Duke senior Nadine Fahoum was growing up in Haifa, Israel she played every sport available - basketball, fencing, swimming, judo, even chess. Then at the age of nine she discovered tennis, and everything else became an afterthought.
After just two months, she was already practicing four hours a day.
"I was like an addict," Fahoum said. "I was the last one on the court and my parents would have to beg me to leave."
So it's no surprise that when it came to one of the world's most high-profile conflicts, the relationship between Arabs and Jews, Fahoum would look to tennis to help promote coexistence. Along with her younger brother, Fahoum, and her mother, Wafa Zoabi Fahoum, Nadine brought Arab kids from Jisr az-Zarqa and Jewish kids from Caesarea together to play tennis.
"They interact with each other and they have fun," Nadine said. "They go home and they think, 'Oh, they're not so bad.' And maybe in the future we can solve these problems."
Her mother, a prominent Israeli Arab lawyer, was the head of a non-profit organization in Haifa, Beit Hagafen, which led the tennis camp. Nadine was only 14 when she started her involvement, but she leapt at the opportunity to use tennis as a platform for improving the society around her.
"It was a great feeling since I'm an Arab person in a Hebrew school, I always saw both sides, so it was good for me to help people understand what I see," Nadine said. "Because what I see is there's no reason to fight. When you don't hear or talk to the other side, you don't know what they're thinking, you're going to fear the other side, and I guess all this interaction helps a lot."
Fahoum is majoring in political science, but she doesn't think about international relations when she takes the court at Duke.
"That's too much to think about," Fahoum said. "When I play tennis, I'm a tennis player. I just go out and play."
The senior from Haifa has won 100 collegiate matches in singles and doubles and has qualified for both events in the NCAA Tournament later this month. She played her first three years at Old Dominion and was named the 2010 Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year before transferring to Duke for her senior season.
She's the first senior transfer Blue Devils coach Jamie Ashworth has had in his 14 years, but she fit in seamlessly, earning all-ACC honors and reaching the semifinals of the Riviera/ITA Women's All-American Championships in doubles with partner Ellah Nze.
Her mother and her brother, who plays for Old Dominion, were in Durham this past weekend as Fahoum begins a busy month. The third-ranked Blue Devils defeated Richmond, 4-0, in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tennis Tournament on Saturday, and then defeated Yale, 4-0, on Sunday in the second round.
By winning both matches, the Blue Devils advanced to the round of 16 and will take on Georgia Tech in Palo Alto, Calif., on Friday. If Duke continues to win as a team, they will be playing up until Tuesday, May 24. The singles and doubles competitions will immediately follow in Stanford May 25-30.
"I'm focusing right now on the team competition, and then I'll have a few days to refocus and get ready for my singles," Fahoum said. "Just play every match just one match at a time, like it's the last one ever in my college career. Actually, it could be."
The senior, whose career records are 107-33 in singles and 104-42 in doubles, lost in the first round of both the singles and doubles competition last year. She is ranked 39th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll in singles and 55th in doubles and says she loves playing both events, though her favorite one depends on the results.
Though it was an exhausting month, it's a fitting conclusion to Fahoum's career, considering how hard it was to get her off the court when she took up the game. In fact, the only opponent she refuses to play is her brother, who is a year and a half younger.
"It doesn't end very well, usually in fights, so we stopped," Nadine said. "We realized it was never going to work out (when I was) 16. It's very competitive. I used to beat him all the time and when he started beating me, it was not fun."
So there's no peace when the Fahoum's play each other, but Nadine looks forward to continuing to use tennis to improve the relationship between Arab and Israeli youth.
"The kids enjoyed it and they loved each other," Nadine said. "You see when they're little kids they don't see the difference between each other, it's just when they grow up and hear all the opinions of others around them, they grow to not like each other. But these kids are still open-minded, so it's the best time to do it."