September 18, 2019
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Bolivian siblings say passion for tennis at root of Pan Am Games success

By Gina Baldivieso

La Paz, Aug 21 (efe-epa).- Bolivian siblings Federico and Noelia Zeballos say the passion for tennis that courses through their veins is what led them to the professional ranks and allowed them to secure the Andean nation's first-ever Pan American Games medal in that sport.

That event in Lima finished 10 days ago, but the Zeballos duo told EFE after receiving a recognition from the Bolivian Tennis Federation that they still are on cloud nine over their unprecedented silver medal and that the feeling is even more special because they won it together.

"We've trained together since we were very young. My father was the one who taught us to play tennis, and having done this alongside her makes it very special," Federico said.

Noelia echoed those thoughts, saying the feat is much more meaningful because of the sentimental aspect.

"Having achieved this triumph (with Federico) is even more special and beautiful because you know that all the efforts you made paid off," she said.

The siblings dedicated their medal to their father and coach, Freddy Zeballos, who "was always there battling" alongside his children, Federico said. Noelia said for her part that it was the "least they could do in exchange for everything he did for us."

"I think it was a family victory," Freddy told EFE proudly, noting that his son and daughter faced extremely tough competition on their road to the Pan American Games mixed doubles final.

Tennis is a big part of life in the Zeballos household, with Freddy's wife, Carmen Melgar, being a physiotherapist and the couple's youngest daughter, Fabiana, working as a tennis instructor and sports psychologist.

Natives of the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, the 31-year-old Federico and 25-year-old Noelia remembered that as young children they got their feet wet in tennis by tagging along when their father taught classes as a local club.

Federico said he realized at age 13 that he wanted to be a professional tennis player and subsequently moved to Argentina and later to Spain on a scholarship in search of better training opportunities.

"It was a really tough start because you need a lot of money to pursue professional tennis. It's a very expensive sport. You're traveling every week to a different country. You have to pay for hotels and food in places that are very expensive," he said.

But economic constraints did not stop Federico, who recalled he slept on the street in Spain and on the beach in Italy when he couldn't find affordable lodging for international events.

At one tournament, he even brought along his stringing machine and strung the racquets of his fellow competitors to cover the cost of his stay.

"And you remember those types of things when you're playing a match," Federico said, adding that he reminded Noelia of that difficult road to motivate her during their semifinal match in Lima.

"We never had the economic resources. We never had the support of any institution, any place, and we always did it through sheer grit. That means saving money on hotels or traveling very little," Noelia said.

Like her brother, she knew she wanted to pursue tennis as a career at the age of 13 and made the switch to a night high school so she could train during the day.

She eventually followed in her brother's footsteps and started paying her way to tournaments in Europe, saying that although she encountered economic obstacles she now knows how to move around more affordably.

Achievements like their Pan American Games medal are "bit more satisfying" considering the financial difficulties they encountered along the way, Federico said.

Prior to capturing the silver medal in Lima, Federico and countryman Murkel Alejandro Dellien Velasco won men's doubles gold at the Bolivarian Games in Trujillo, Peru, in 2013.

Noelia also is a Bolivarian Games medal winner, having teamed with Boris Arias to capture silver in Santa Marta, Colombia, in 2017.

The Zeballos siblings also finished fourth in mixed doubles at the South American Games in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2018.

Federico now has his sights set on competing in the men's doubles event at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo alongside Hugo Dellien, who in 2018 became the first Bolivian player to achieve a top-100 ATP singles ranking in 34 years.

Noelia, who has a goal of breaking into the top 100 of the WTA singles rankings, said she hopes their Pan American Games medal opens the door for steady financial support for the remainder of their careers. EFE-EPA

gb/mc

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