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Marcelo Arevalo and partner Jean-Julien Rojer won their first major title together at Roland Garros.

Doubles Spotlight: Arevalo Says 'If You Work Hard, Dreams Can Come True'

Top 10 doubles star discusses plan to promote tennis in Central America

At Roland Garros in early June, Marcelo Arevalo made history. In lifting the trophy on the Parisian clay alongside Jean-Julien Rojer, the Salvadoran became the first Grand Slam men’s doubles champion from Central America, an unprecedented moment in the story of tennis in the region. Arevalo has a plan in place to ensure it is not the last.

“I started this project with my brother [former ATP pro Rafael Arevalo] in 2009,” Arevalo recently told ATPTour.com. “It’s called the Hermanos Arevalo Tennis Academy, and we give opportunities to kids in need. The problem in El Salvador is, if you want to play tennis, you need to be a member of a country club, or you need to go to the national federation, where back then [in 2009] you still needed to pay… So kids didn’t play tennis because they didn’t have the money to pay.

“What we did was give the opportunity to those kids to come to our academy, and they had the chance to practise for free at certain hours. Our goal was to make them believe that they could play professionally, or if they wanted to take the other way, to send them to college with a free scholarship that will change their life.

“We did that with probably four or five guys. We gave them a scholarship in our academy and also helped them to travel. No big deal, just to Guatemala, a couple of tournaments in Central America, just for them to have some matches when they were juniors and to be more attractive for the colleges. So they went to college, they’ve already graduated, and now they live in the United States. Those kids came from nothing. It changed their lives.”

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Arevalo’s Roland Garros triumph propelled him into the spotlight in El Salvador, where his achievement received a surge of public support. “When I arrived at the airport, there were like a hundred people waiting for me at 9 p.m. on a Sunday,” he said. “People had to work the next day, but [they] were there just waiting for me, with big flyers saying, ‘Welcome Champion’ and ‘You Did It!’. It was a nice welcome, to see that the people appreciate what it means to win a Grand Slam title.”

Arevalo was even invited to meet President Nayib Bukele and was named a Worthy Son of El Salvador by the country's Legislative Assembly. With a sudden wave of public attention focussed on his achievement and tennis in general, Arevalo is keen to make the moment count.

“I don’t want to say I have the ‘power’, but a lot of people are interested in making a partnership with me [since Roland Garros],” Arevalo said. “I already found two companies that want to help us with the project, so now I want to do that, but bigger. Instead of four kids in six years, we want to do a lot of kids, and we want to make them able to become professional tennis players. Because if I did it, they also can do it.”

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Arevalo understands what it is like to build something from the ground up. Until he was 14 there were no tennis courts in his hometown of Sonsonate, a small city 80 kilometres from the capital San Salvador — a problem his father solved by building two courts himself. Arevalo is keen to become similarly hands on at the academy whenever he can, and developments have been made easier by the fact that his brother Rafael is now also the president of the Salvadoran Tennis Federation.

“The academy is in the capital city, it is going to be in the courts of the federation,” Arevalo said. “The government is going to put in a lot of money. They are going to renovate the whole thing, build a stadium, dormitories, new locker rooms, new courts, resurface everything. There will be 17 courts, and five of those are going to be for our project.

“Step-by-step we want to extend that to the kids in Central America as well. The last step will be that my team — my coach, my fitness coach — will come to the academy and spend time with the kids, help them, teach them, and I will be more of a presence too. If I have one or two weeks off, I want to go back to the academy, bring my team and practise there, so the kids can see and get motivated.

“I went to college (Arevalo played at the University of Tulsa from 2010-11), so I’m going to get in touch with my ex-college coach, and hopefully he can help me with different coaches and sending video from our players to see which colleges are interested in the kids that we have in the academy.

“Basically, that is the plan. I hope I can motivate those kids to believe that big things can happen. If you choose the process, if you work hard, dreams can come true.”

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