Athletes of the Week: Elite Junior Tennis Players

Cathal Butler

“It’s only a matter of time before we are at Grand Slams regularly, but we need to get these juniors on the road.”

TENNIS IRELAND’s performance director Garry Cahill is in the RTE 2fm studio talking shop and someone has just brought up football and the stresses players claim to be under, physically.

“I laugh when I hear a footballer saying that they need more recovery time after a match every weekend,” he says. “In our game we play five sets every second day, and you have to do it two weeks in a row if you’re going to win a Grand Slam.”

That’s when a player has made it, but what Cahill is focusing on today is how to get the talent there in the first place. That is a whole other level of hardship, requiring endless weeks away from home, expensive tournaments, and money, money, money.

This Elite Players Fund has been set up to try to raise funding for our junior tennis players,” he explains. “In tennis we have to play 15 to 20 weeks of the year, internationally, from a young age – that’s unlike a lot of other sports.

GDrummy“We’re working really hard and have a lot of very good players coming through in the BNP Paribas Academy in DCU, but a big part of becoming a tennis player is going on tour and playing the tournaments to accumulate the points to get up the rankings.

“We are trying to raise money to put them on the road and give them the competition they need at an early stage.”

The quality of Ireland’s elite junior tennis players was highlighted this week when Bjorn Thomson won his first qualifying match at the Australian Open’s junior tournament. He was defeated by Denmark’s Christian Sigsgaard in straight sets in match two, but the match-play on such a big stage will count. It just could have been so different if he had the funds for his coach to come with him.

Ireland’s number one doubles player James Cluskey has heralded the Elite Players Fund, ruing his inability to reverse time and benefit from an initiative he has “no doubt” could take Irish tennis to new heights.

“In tennis money matters and unless conditions improve for the juniors it’s going to be very hard for them to make it in tennis,” he says. “Unless tennis players can travel to compete and train with people better than them they cannot progress. I have personally had to deal with this for the last 10 years.

“If there was a project like this set up in my day it would have made a huge difference in my career. I have no doubt I would be playing at a much higher level.”

As was alluded to earlier, it’s not just the international experience that is crucial, but the input that can be gained from having a coach watching your every move. Without this extra funding, junior tennis players can only travel with parents or guardians, who provide good support, it’s often just not the right kind.

Cahill explains: “Knowing how to break down opposition is really important and having a coach to talk about that on the road is invaluable.”

He adds: “In golf you can play yourself; go to a course and shoot 18 holes. In tennis you can’t. You need to have an opponent of a similar or better level to improve.

“It’s only a matter of time before these juniors can improve to compete regularly in Grand Slams, but we need to get them on the road to get them the experience and points they need to move up the rankings.”

The Elite Players Fund on offers supporters a myriad of exclusive rewards, including entry to pro-am tournaments, signed Davis Cup shirts and seats at the pre-Davis Cup dinner. Become part of the Elite Junior Players’ future today.

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