At 56, he’s still not tired of clowning around the courts. Even when he was a professional, he was capable of letting a game slip from his grasp for the sake of a nice move. For Bahrami, it's first and foremost the...

At 56, he’s still not tired of clowning around the courts. Even when he was a professional, he was capable of letting a game slip from his grasp for the sake of a nice move. For Bahrami, it's first and foremost the love of the game…

  Bahrami and exhibitions matches - it's been going on for twenty years. Aren't you tired? Tired? Of what? I'm having a blast! I travel the world for exhibition matches, it's my job. And I don't know any other where you are paid to have fun. Younger, I never thought I'd make it to 56 years old! You have to know one thing: 9 out of 10 players who retire would like to keep playing. I'm still here. For how long? As long as my body allows me to. The day when I feel that there’s no more juice, I'll stop. I don't want to be ridiculous either.   So basically, how does it work? Is it you who contacts the various tournaments to offer your services? Not at all! I'm not looking for anything. They call me, they invite me and I come. This is why I travel most of the year. I sometimes go three months without stepping foot in my own house.   Your wife must be happy about that... You know, sometimes, I get to stay at home for two weeks without playing, it makes me go crazy! At one point, it's she who tells me: "Actually, there's an exhibition soon, it'll be good for you ...”   Will you bring some new features to your "acts"? There’s actually nothing calculated and, besides, I've never prepared an exhibition match. I go on the court and improvise. I've never been a great player but the shots I did, they aren't many to do them or even know how to do them.   In this kind of game, do you know why people are coming? The public come to these games to have a good time. At the beginning, amongst the players, not everyone was up for it. Some said: "Stop your bullshit; you're making us look like idiots." But if the other guy wants to play seriously and on the other side, I'm acting like a clown, after five minutes, he’s booed by the crowd…  

"150 lashes and a stint in prison...”

  Finally, we feel like we only know Bahrami the showman... I’ve always played like that, even when I was on the professional tour. I must have lost a hundred matches I should have won. On the match point, I could try a crazy thing, like that, just for fun. Or more accurately, to make people laugh. When it happened, it was great, but hey, this was not always the case. What mattered to me was to make people happy. When I went on court and there were only twelve lost souls in the stands, I didn't want to play. What I needed was a crowd and a lot of laughs.   How do you explain the need to make people laugh? I don't know, I've always been like that. At 12, I used to play with a wooden stick or a shovel. (Laughs) I managed a few shots that some can't do with a racquet. In fact, on second thoughts, at the end of the day I'm maybe just an actor...   Your professional career looked promising but it took a serious setback with the Islamic revolution and the arrival of the Ayatollah Khomeini... At 17, I was on the tour. And at 20, everything stopped. Overnight, I couldn't play anymore. Not abroad, since nobody had the right to leave the country, nor even at home. Considering it was an American sport and therefore a capitalist sport played by the rich, the regime decided to close all the courts. The only thing I can tell you is that, I was never rich in Iran...   What could happen to you if you were caught playing? I don't remember exactly, but it must have been something like 150 lashes and a stint in prison. So, up to 24 years old, I had to refrain from touching a racquet...   It’s at this age that you managed to flee the country. Tell us about this adventure... I had a friend who knew the Foreign Minister at the time, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh. I asked him to ask him if he could help me leave Iran. He needed my passport and, three days later, a Swiss visa appeared on it. So I went. Six months later (note: in September 1982), Ghotbzadeh was hanged because the regime suspected him of preparing a coup d'état.  

"It was on the Champs-Elysées, in a traffic jam one evening that I met my wife"

  So you left, leaving everything behind? I didn't have much choice. Three years later, I returned because my father was dying. But it's true, my whole family stayed there. It was difficult, but if I had not left Iran, I don’t know what would have happened to me.   What do you think of the current situation? People have no freedom.   As a public figure, are you solicited to convey a message? Sometimes. But you know, I can't do much about it. Part of my family is still in Iran. My two brothers and my two sisters. I haven't seen them in four years. Since the big protests of three years ago, I prefer not to return.   For fear of not being able to come back? I don't know whether they would try to prevent me from leaving but I don't have guarantees that they wouldn't...   Is it hard not to be able to go back to your own country? I was born in Iran, my mother tongue is Farsi but I spent 32 years of my life in Paris. It was on the Champs-Élysées, in a traffic jam one evening that I met the woman who became my wife. My country is France. This is the one that helped me become what I am today.   Coming back to tennis… Do you ever have any regrets? Thinking that ultimately you could have had another career? No, and for the simple reason that it was impossible to have a career at the time. From 24 to 30 years old, I couldn't leave French territory. I had an Iranian passport and, at that time, nobody wanted to see the colour of it. One day, I wanted to play a $600 000 tournament in Brussels. At the time, it was huge. The organizers had got me a wild card but the Belgian authorities didn’t let me enter their territory.  

"A guy gave 100,000 francs (£10 000) for my moustache"

  It is often said that the current players lack a certain madness... (He cuts) It's nothing new, they were saying that twenty years ago! And yet, at the time Agassi arrived with his denim shorts, his fluorescent T-shirt, and his long hair...   Well his wig... (Laughs) Well, yes, his wig. But on the court, what was he doing? He remained behind and boom-boom. No, me when I think madness, I think Ilie Nastase. There was always something about him. He had a real charisma and if he wanted to say "shit" to the referee and get a $5000 fine for it, he did it anyway.   The regulations have hardened since... Yes, and it’s a shame, since, in my opinion, it’s not the image of tennis. It's good to let a player break his racquet. It’s a way for him to express his emotions, and somehow, to share with the public. And it brings a little spice. In my time, people liked it.   Has the public changed? We often criticize today's players as being robots. I remember a match at Roland Garros where Marat Safin was being killed by Santoro. And suddenly he smashed his racquet. And then everyone started to boo him. But damn, it's hard to know what the public wants. On one hand they boo a guy who breaks his racket and on the other, they are nostalgic for McEnroe...   By the way, you have often come across him during exhibitions. He also was quite an actor wasn't he? You talk about his character? I can tell you that this is not an act. Moreover, it sometimes can be a bit annoying. Example: when a nice lady came to see him, saying, "Oh, Mr McEnroe, I've always been one of your biggest fans. It’s a pleasure to meet you "and he replied, "Go fuck yourself!" I have an anecdote about McEnroe: just before the doubles final of the Toulouse tournament, I was playing with Eric Winogradsky, John said: "If you please, refrain from your little fantasies, like your drop-shot. I don’t want this match to be ridiculous. It wouldn’t be good for my image. "I said: "Ok, we'll play seriously." Then we beat them 6-0, 6-3. At the end, he came back: "Damn, I didn’t say that seriously!”   To finish, let's talk about your moustache. It's your trademark isn't it? (Laughs) I shaved it twice. The first time when, with the Perreux club, we became French champions… There was a party where all the guys of the team had to dress as women. You should have seen me in a dress and heels ... The second was during an auction to benefit Yannick Noah’s association "Children of Earth" A guy gave 100,000 francs (£10 000) for my moustache. So I shaved it and I gave it away. But I must admit that I have no idea whatsoever what he did with it...   Interview by Charles Michel