Anil Khanna Image Credit: Alaric Gomes/Gulf News

Dubai: A top official from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is optimistic that junior talent in the UAE will surface following the launch of an international grassroots initiative in the country earlier this week.

Anil Khanna, vice-president of the ITF and president of the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF), was in Dubai for the launch of the ITF’s Junior Tennis Initiative (JTI) that will help identify and prepare a pathway for under-14 players. Now spread over more than 100 national tennis associations, the JTI helps countries establish an under-14 junior development programme.

Under the JTI initiative, the ITF nations are helped in setting up training and competition for U10 players using smaller courts and slower balls, while the U14 players are selected to receive performance-based training and access to national-level competitions.

“Dubai hosts two weeks of high-level tennis and it is but fair that we have a solid programme that will complement that fortnight,” Khanna told Gulf News after signing the agreement with Tennis Emirates Chairman Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum, on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

“We need to get to terms with the reality that coaching is not just the job of the national associations. Everyone who is present needs to be involved because ultimately building up a player is the responsibility of all involved in the process,” he added.

Khanna also attended a special Tennis Emirates (TE) workshop held for coaches and officials at the General Authority of Sports (GAS) premises under the guidance of Saeed Abdul Ghaffar, general secretary, GAS. The daylong workshop also witnessed TE embark on its own Talent Identification Programme (TIP) to introduce a more concentrated junior-level grassroots development.

“There is no doubt that youngsters need to start tennis at a very young age,” Khanna said. “It’s the healthiest sport today, and playing tennis doesn’t mean only about making world champions. Tennis can be adopted as one of the best sport for living,” he added.

“As per the initial plan, the existing tennis academies and centres will get preferential treatment, should they choose to be part of our programme and initiatives,” Nasser Yousuf Al Marzouqi, general secretary, TE, said.

The TE development model calls for the inclusion of tennis academies and similar institutions as part of the programme to ultimately ensure that junior talent is tapped from a young age. “In the UAE, we realise we need the numbers. We have more than 150 tennis academies and institutions and we already have more than 50 who have registered with us at the moment. We want everyone to come forward and be part of this initiative so that together we can build up our sport for the future,” Al Marzouqi added.