DUBAI // The Emirati flag could be flying high at next year's Dubai Tennis Open championship as one of the country's most promising female stars sets her sights on making a debut on home soil. At just 14, Fatima al Janahi has dominated the local circuit for more than two years and is the current GCC Under 14 champion. All UAE-based tennis tournaments must have two wild-card places open to Emiratis but al Janahi says she will decide at the end of the year if she will take on the world's best in Dubai.
And when she does, she will become the first Emirati female to compete at the top level of the sport. However, the decision comes with conditions - she will only pursue her dream if she has played enough International Tennis Federation's (ITF) junior tournaments and is training consistently throughout the year. She is also hoping to have the country's support behind her. "I don't want to compete just for the sake of competing," she says. "I want to feel ready and that will depend on how I play and train."
The plan looks like it is on track - she has just returned home after spending more than two months playing and training in Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. Once she completed her final school exams last month, she headed to Tunisia for a two-week training camp before competing in the U14 Arab Championships, which were being held in the same country. Al Janahi won her first two preliminary matches but lost in the main draw 7-6, 7-6 to Tunisia's Yasmine Kharat.
She then headed to Jordan for three weeks where she lost in the final of the U14 Asian championships. It was in Jordan the teenager decided to make her ITF debut in the U18 category. Although she didn't make it past the first round, Janahi felt she walked away pleased with her performance. "It was a very good experience because there were so many older players, much older than me," she said "I was the youngest in the tournament. This was a completely different experience, different from any Arab or Asian championships. I really felt like I could win the match, it was close.
"Right now, it is all about getting the experience against international players." Her final tournament was in Egypt, the U18 Arab Championships, on clay. "This one was difficult because here [in the Gulf] we play on hard court and the Egyptians have been playing on clay their whole life," she says. "I think I played well but think all of this is really about getting the experience." Al Janahi, who is the younger sister of Emirati Davis Cup team member, Hamad, says more local girls need to join her on tour because without them, the country is at a disadvantaged.
She also says she needs a female training partner or she'll have to keep training with the boys. "This always happens, I'm the only one [girl] who travels," she said. "It's not fair because I know there are other girls in the country who play tennis but they don't travel. "I go to these tournaments and every country has more than one girl and they're getting a lot of court time and playing games and I don't have the same advantage."
While this is a major setback for her on tour al Janahi refuses to let it affect her performance or deter her from pursing her professional dream. Back home in Dubai, her success has been rewarded in the form of a sponsorship deal from the Dubai Sports Council (DSC). In November last year DSC announced the 'Program for Talents' that awarded sponsorship to the city's 10 players who are No 1 in their individual sports. Al Janahi was the only female among the city's boys.
The program ensures schools support the young stars, giving them time off that is required to compete during the school year. And when the school year begins, she'll be back to juggling her school work, training and tours. Thankfully, she says, she has the support of her teachers and is able to complete her school work on tour. email@example.com