Anna and the kingmaker When tennis stars Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze came to our shores for an exhibition match, former Singapore bodybuilder Rano Izhar and his brothers provided security for them. He has now forged an alliance with Chakvetadze, as he tells ARUN RAJBy Arun RajJanuary 14, 2008
THE government has always urged Singaporeans to be effectively bilingual.
One man took it a step further and reaped the rewards.
When Rano Izhar Rahmat spoke in Russian to Djambuli Chakvetadze to remind him of his hotel room number, he may have drawn surprised laughter and shock from the father of tennis superstar Anna Chakvetadze.
But, there is little doubt that he made an impact with them.
The women's world No. 6 has asked former national bodybuilder Rano to train her in the gymnasium during winter this year.
Rano, 43, represented Singapore as a national bodybuilder and was runner-up at the 2004 Musclemania World - a bodybuilding competition held annually in the United States.
He and his brothers were recently employed to provide security coverage for Chakvetadze and Maria Sharapova when the duo were in town for an exhibition match.
Rano says he found himself attached to looking after the former rather than the latter.
'Maria had her own boundaries and did not really talk to any of us,' said Rano.
'Even when I helped with her luggage, only her coach acknowldged me with thanks.
'Anna is really nice and her father was always forgetting his room number.
'So I told him what his room number was in Russian and he had a good laugh, probably humoured by this brown-skinned man speaking his language,' said Rano, laughing.
Mr Chakvetadze needn't have been surprised. Rano's wife, Anya Kulish, is a Russian.
Rano explained that he picked up the language when he went to Russia last year to visit his in-laws. Kulish's mother does not speak a word of English.
'When you are there, everyone speaks Russian and I started with the basic stuff like 'hello' and 'how are you' and went on from there,' Rano said.
Coming from a family of 11 brothers and three sisters, Rano and his siblings have been trained in the traditional Malay martial art of silat by their father, Rahmat Mohd Shah.
'From strength training for silat, we did bicep workouts with barbells, dumbells and push-ups.
'We knew little about muscle and body building then, but that's how it all started,' said Rano.
He has a doctorate in exercise and sports science from Honolulu University, and he uses his knowledge - coupled with his experience in traditional massage that he learnt from his father - to help alleviate muscle aches and strains.
'Once, I saw Djambuli struggling to lift his arm, and I asked him if he wouldn't mind me massaging it,' said Rano.
'He agreed, and I went to work on it. And after three days of massaging him, he had managed to lift it up straight, vertically.
'He was so thankful.'
Rano also accompanied Chakvetadze when she decided to pop down Orchard Road for shopping.
Although she could speak English, having Rano, with whom she could converse in Russian, around seemed to put her at ease.
They chatted about Chakvetadze's game and Rano recommended that she hit the gym to strengthen her muscles.
'She has great technique and skill, but if she could add power to her game, she could better challenge for a Grand Slam,' reasoned Rano.
The closest Chakvetadze had come to winning a Grand Slam title was when she reached the semi-finals of last year's US Open, before losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
It was no surprise then that Chakvetadze took Rano's recommendations seriously.
And he could turn out to be the kingmaker who helped Chakvetadze achieve her Grand Slam dreams.
Chakvetadze has invited him to personally train her during the Russian winter season.
'I usually head up to Russia in the summer with my wife to see her family, but Anna and her father asked if I could come in winter this time,' said Rano.
'I'm trying to arrange my schedule to allow for that as I really like them,' said Rano.
'It is my passion and forte to help someone achieve his or her objectives and goals.'
And if Chakvetadze stars in her first Grand Slam final this season, you know who she'll have to thank.