Wimbledon 2017: Three tennis stars with faith to watch out for

With the Championships at Wimbledon rapidly approaching, the eyes of the world will turn to SW19 for two weeks of obsession. 

Watching sport in the office suddenly becomes acceptable and previously undeclared fanatics suddenly announce themselves as experts on the intricacies of Andy Murray's defensive game. 

One of the few topics that is unlikely to come up in discussion around Wimbledon is religion. 

Unlike many other sports such as rugby, athletics and football, public displays of faith are rare and notable by their absence on court.

But to help you as everyone rapidly brushes up on their tennis knowledge, here are three Wimbledon stars with faith to watch out for.  

Wimbledon begins today, Monday 3 JulyReuters
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Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro, former world number four and currently seeded 32, is a devout Catholic.

The six foot six South American giant met Pope Francis, a fellow Argentine, in 2013 and gave him the racket he used to win his only Grand Slam, defeating Roger Federer in the 2009 US Open final.

Now 28 years old the big-serving star also had his rosary beads blessed by the pontiff as he took time off training to attend mass at the Vatican.

'It was a big moment for me, maybe the biggest moment of my life,' Del Potro said afterward. 'I was able to speak to him about tennis and about his career. Everybody knows I am Catholic and this was a fantastic opportunity to speak to him and hear what he is doing for the world. In our country we are so proud to have him in that position.'

Speaking more generally about his faith he added: 'I go to church in Argentina and I try to keep it up during the tournaments. Sometimes it is difficult to find a church, and then there is the problem that people follow you everywhere. But I try to be close to one whenever I can.

'I am very Catholic. I am trying to be a good person every day and do what my parents teach me when I was a kid. Some athletes can change, because it's not easy when you became famous too fast. The money, the pictures, the fans following you everywhere you can have everything you want. There are different temptations every time, but you have to be calm with your focus and your work. You need a very sharp team working with you to still be the same person all the time.'

Del Potro will open his Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday at 1130 against Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Andy Murray kicks off his Wimbledon campaign today on Centre Court.Reuters

On the women's side Simona Halep is one of the favourites to win despite never winning a Grand Slam. 

The number two seed Romanian is also a strict Orthodox Christian and travels with a religious icon.

Rising from relative obscurity, Halep is now estimated to be worth $145million with endorsements from major sponsors such as Vodafone.

'It's important thing for me in my life,' she said of her faith. 'I believe in God. I don't go to the church every week because it's not my style, but I believe in him, and I have [icons] with me and I believe in them.'

She opens her title challenge on Monday at 1pm on court 2 against New Zealand's Marina Erakovic.

Reuters

Over on the doubles track Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, a Pakistani Muslim, made his history when he played with Rohan Bopanna, an Indian Hindu.

The popular star has since started a tennis foundation called Stop War, Start Tennis. Now playing alongside Romania's Florin Mergea, he is due to kick start his Wimbledon career this year on Wednesday morning.

'Since I started playing tennis, I kept the religion part away from it. I've never tried to persuade anyone on Islam. Everyone has their own voices to believe what they want to believe in. At the end of the day, what we believe in is to be a good human being.'

These three examples are exceptions rather than the rule with most tennis players either reluctant to express a view or are unsure themselves.

Rafael Nadal for example, who opens his Wimbledon campaign this afternoon, is from Catholic majority Spain but seems both agnostic and hesitant to say what he thinks publicly.

'I would love to know if God exists, but it's a very difficult thing for me to believe,' the Spaniard said. 'I don't know. It's private and I don't want to speak about it, but I say, "If God exists, you don't need [to cross yourself] or pray." If God exists, he's intelligent enough to do the important things, the right things.'

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