Jorge Martin says he has a programme in place that will change the face of UAE tennis. But it will take time, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
Jorge Martin is courting the next generation of UAE tennis
For two weeks every year, tennis becomes the most talked about sport in the country.
The presence of the Roger Federers and Novak Djokovics brings a myriad mix of fans to the Aviation Club daily during the men's portion of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Young and old turn up in droves.
The teenagers and preteens, their tennis bags slung across their shoulders, hunt for autographs and photographs, or just a glimpse of their favourite players.
There are a number of Emiratis among them as well. More than 300 turned up for the two Tennis Emirates clinics to receive tips from the visiting stars.
"Never before have we had so many kids, and it looked so nice," said Jorge Martin, the UAE head coach and organiser of the clinic. "Everybody was so happy. The kids were really excited."
Tennis clinics have been held almost every year, but there have been few noticeable gains from it.
The UAE tennis cupboard looks a bit empty, especially as Omar Awadhy, the country's leading player for more than a decade, shifts his focus to coaching.
Martin, however, is confident it will be different this time.
Having worked with the Madrid Tennis Association's Junior Development Programme for more than 20 years, the Spaniard has drawn up a similar plan to take tennis to the grass roots. The programme has been in action since October.
"You really have to get these kids excited about tennis," he said.
"You cannot have one clinic and say, 'See you next year, Inshallah'. No, I am going to be at their school in the morning and talking to them. 'Kids, did you really enjoy the clinic yesterday. Yeah. Who wants to play tennis today? Me, me, me' … That is the way. We have to keep them excited about tennis every day."
As part of his pilot project, Martin has picked two Dubai schools, the Al Ittihad Private School and the Dubai International School, and the majority of the 300 who attended the tennis clinic were from these two schools, all of them seven year olds.
"I have already selected 50 - 24 girls and 26 boys - [from the 300] who can be really good," Martin said. "We will see if they want to continue and if they do, we will offer them a chance to come to our facilities and continue with our programme.
"We already have 300 kids aged seven, and let's say if only 10 per cent of them decide to continue, it means that this year we have 30 kids. Next year, we will continue the same programme with the same age, and we will have another 30 players. That would mean, in four to five years I will have probably 150-200 kids.
"I did this in Spain. I was in charge of the development programme for the Madrid Tennis Federation for 20 years. So these things can happen. You only need to know how you can do it."
Martin came to the UAE in 2010 as part of an agreement between Tennis Emirates and the Madrid Tennis Association, and his first year was spent trying to understand the tennis culture here.
Now, the Spaniard believes he knows what needs to be done to attract more Emirati youngsters to the sport.
"Here, maybe they don't have the same tennis culture as Europe, where, for example, they go to the country clubs on weekends and practice," Martin said. "So our job is to go to the schools. If the kids don't come to us, we will go to see the kids.
Abdulrahman Falaknaz, the vice-president of Tennis Emirates, has described the junior development programme as a "very good initiative" that "will give us a good flow for the future".
"Jorge is very serious about this programme and he knows exactly what is needed to take this forward," Falaknaz said. "He has already identified some players who have a good future in tennis."
Tennis Emirates are also doing their bit to support the coach. They have taken over two tennis courts at Al Nasr club, where Martin will be based. Before this, the federation had no place of their own.
With the two courts Martin now has a place from where he can operate. The Spaniard, however, expects to run out of space soon and that probably is good news for UAE tennis.
"We have got two courts and hopefully we can build another," he said. "With all these kids, I am really going to need more courts."
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