Tennis and football star band together in Iran to invent new world record

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By Webdesk

Tehran, Iran – A professional tennis player facing off against a footballer using his feet on the tennis court – that would be an unusual sight anywhere.

But for this footballer, Mehdi Hobe Darvish, such feats are not uncommon as he actively seeks them out in an effort to set world records.

At an exhibition event in northwestern Tehran on Thursday afternoon, he was joined by Amir Hossein Badi, one of Iran’s top tennis players, on an open-air tennis hardcourt located at the Espinas Palace hotel.

After warming up with some keepie-uppies to entertain the cameras airing it on two local streaming services and the dozens of people watching from the stands and an adjacent building, the two athletes kicked it off on the court.

Badi passed the ball over the net gently with a tennis racket, and Darvish returned it with his foot after controlling and briefly juggling it, with the ball allowed to bounce once.

They managed to repeat that 637 times in an hour, which they and Iranian sports officials believe is a world record, and one that has not been tried before.

“I didn’t think he would last even half an hour in this heat and sunlight but he got every ball back, something that’s difficult to do even with a racket,” Badi said of his partner after completing the feat.

Darvish, who had previously achieved a world record by juggling a tennis ball on his feet 144 times in one minute in Dubai in 2010, said that paled in comparison.

“Hitting the ball over the net required much more power and it completely depleted me. I had never experienced so much physical strain,” he said.

Footballer Mehdi Hobeh Darvish, left, with Amir Hossein Badi, one of Iran’s top tennis players, on an open-air tennis hardcourt located at the Espinas Palace Hotel [Courtesty of Mahmoud Najafzadeh]
Mehdi Hobe Darvish controls a ball from Amir Hossein Badi [Maziar Motamedi/Al Jazeera]

Hadi Rezaei, the head of Iran National Records, a committee under the sports ministry, confirmed to Al Jazeera that the feat will first be recorded at a national level before being sent to Guinness World Records for international recognition.

“We are recording everything based on the required Guinness conditions and I believe we can register this internationally within three months,” he said.

Guinness did not respond to a request for comment on why it does not currently have any official representatives in Iran.

Inspiration for the exhibition match originally came from a face-off between two of the greatest the two sports have ever seen – Cristiano Ronaldo and Rafael Nadal.

The two champions got on a tennis court in 2012, where Nadal hit the ball with his racket and Ronaldo returned it with his feet with some flair. But that was an edited video for a Nike commercial – and the Spanish tennis star even got to show off his football skills with a bicycle kick.

Darvish, who said would love to play a tennis match with Ronaldo using feet and has begun reaching out to the Portuguese star’s representatives to make it a reality, wanted to do it differently, and got in touch with sports ministry officials.

They introduced him to Badi, a member of the Iranian national tennis team, which in July made history by finishing top of their Asia/Oceania group in the 2023 Davis Cup, securing a place in the 2024 world group play-offs for the first time.

Before stepping on to the court to complete Thursday’s event, Darvish said he was always searching for new ideas to register interesting records that have not been tried before.

He once got in a cable car at the foot of the Tochal mountain in northern Tehran and juggled a football until he reached the peak, which sits at an elevation of roughly 4,000 metres (about 13,000 feet).

He also gained much attraction locally in 2018 when he walked backwards up the 1,860 steps to the top of the Milad Tower, the highest tower in Iran, while juggling a football on his feet.

He replicated the same feat twice more at the Milad Tower, which is also the sixth-tallest telecommunications tower in the world, but once using a tennis ball and a third time using tiny marbles.

“I had been meaning to register this new record of playing tennis with my feet, since I had played ping-pong with my feet for an hour but had never tried this,” Darvish told Al Jazeera.

“It was another new idea that I really wanted to try for a long time.”

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