Dubai: The UAE Tennis Federation (UAE TF) is banking heavily on the success of its Junior Tennis Initiative (JTI) so that the younger generation can push the sport here to the next level.
At their last meeting held earlier this week, the UAE TF board of directors decided to further ramp up the JTI programme, held in cooperation with the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
“We are fully aware that we’ve got to look past some of our more experienced players like Omar [Bahroozian] and Hamad [Abbas Al Janahi]. Our main hope lies in the next crop of players that will come through. All members felt that we ought to look a few years down the line to ensure we have a sound crop of juniors coming through,” Nasser Al Marzouqi, General Secretary, UAE TF, told Gulf News.
Efforts are on to set up junior development activities in other emirates like Sharjah, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi to further broaden the base. “In fact, it is the academies that stand to benefit as well under the JTI programme. Al Shaab Club will hopefully get a few courts soon and so also Abu Dhabi. We are headed in the right direction but we need more support from the tennis academies here,” he insisted.
The JTI programme was launched by ITF Vice-President Anil Khanna at the end of February last year. Now spread over more than 100 national tennis associations, the JTI helps countries establish an under-14 junior development programme while helping identifying and preparing a career pathway for juniors.
Under the JTI programme, the ITF nations are helped in setting up training and competition for U-10 players by using smaller courts and slower balls, while the U-14 players are selected to receive performance-based training and access to national-level competitions.
“We all admit that the era of Omar and Hamad is going to leave big gaps in-between for UAE tennis. There are gaps between 8 to 18 and we have been trying to develop more players at the grassroots level, and that’s the only way forward for everyone,” Al Marzouqi admitted.
The UAE TF has an entire folder of nearly 250 developmental events, starting with the age group-run UAE Rankings Tennis Circuits including 157 competitions in the development and JTI category meant for under-8, 9, 10, 12 and 14 year-olds, along with another 52 competitions for the under-16s and 18s. In addition, there are another 35 competitions conducted through the year for the adults, including tournaments for men, women and veterans.
“In 2019, we signed up with the ITF for the JTI programme with an eye on developing our juniors. The ITF has always been willing to assist in all development activities of our sport. But it has taken us some time to put all this across to the private academies here,” Marzouqi said.
“Some of these academies have shown a strong commitment to be part of the JTI while there are some who have not shown any response at all. All that we seek is that each of these academies take in and develop at least two Emirati juniors. That’s all,” he added.