Lost in the U.S. Open drama of Rafael Nadal’s five-set victory over Daniil Medvedev and Serena Williams’ loss to Bianca Andreescu is one of the most compelling stories in tennis this year – the rise of Colombian doubles team Juan Sebastian “Sebas” Cabal and Robert Farah.
Cabal and Farah won the U.S. Open men’s doubles title last Friday, becoming the first South American duo ever to lift that trophy. The pair had already made history earlier this summer when it won Wimbledon, the first time a Colombian team had won that tournament.
Carah and Farah have won five titles this year, and shot up to No. 1 in the world rankings. They have each earned more than $1 million in prize money thus far this season and were welcomed like national heroes when they returned from Wimbledon.
“I felt like Shakira,” Cabal said after a crowd of 20,000 fans greeted him at the Cali airport and a fire truck paraded him around town as people lined the streets. When Farah got to Bogota, he was also met by media and throngs of fans. “It was crazy, so many people, so much love,” Cabal said. “It is a memory for life.”
They received more love in Doral on Monday. They did a meet-and-greet with fans as guests of their longtime sponsor, Sanitas Medical Center, a Colombia-based health care company that partners with Florida Blue – the Florida arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield – at locations all over the state.
“Every time we play here in Florida, the atmosphere on the court is amazing,” Cabal said. “A lot of Colombians come with flags, t-shirts. We have to say thank you for all the love and support. All these trophies we won is for them because they keep us going.”
Farah, 32, and Cabal, 33, are childhood friends, have trained together since they were 10 years old, and in 2011 they became doubles partners on the ATP Tour. They played in 30 Grand Slams before finally winning one. Through it all, they were sponsored and supported by Colsanitas insurance company, the parent company of Sanitas.
Roberto Cocheteux, the founder of the company, was considered the father of Colombian tennis and was a mentor to many young players. He died Aug. 20 at the age of 68, and Cabal and Farah dedicated their U.S. Open title to him.
Colsanitas’ investment in tennis is paying off. Although a few Colombian players had emerged through the years – Fabiola Zuluaga reached No. 16 and made a Grand Slam semifinal, Santiago Giraldo reached No. 28, and Alejandro Falla had some good wins – none had won Grand Slam titles until Cabal and Farah.
Meanwhile, bubbly 17-year-old Colombian Maria Osorio Serrano won the U.S. Open junior title over the weekend with a 6-1, 6-0 win over American Alexandra Yepifanova. When she walked into the interview room, she pointed to the chair and asked: “Did Federer sit in that chair?” Told he did, she giggled and settled in for her interview. “If he’s watching this, `This is for you, you’re my inspiration. I love you so much’. I hope he can say something to me. Just like, `Hi.’ Just ‘Hi’ would be fine for me.”
Osorio Serrano is the first Colombian to win the girls’ singles title at the U.S. Open.
“We are making our path, showing future generations that Colombians can win in tennis,” Cabal said.
“Obviously, there’s been a good trend in Colombia with sports,” said Farah, who is of Lebanese heritage and played college tennis at the University of Southern California from 2006-10. “Colombians are very passionate people for their country, doesn’t matter if it’s sports or arts or an actor or a singer, Shakira, Juanes, Carlos Vives. They support their own, and they’re very proud. When something good happens internationally, they show their love. And we feel the same. We are doing this for all of Colombia.”