Junior sport Fatima Al Janahi represents the new generation of UAE tennis players. Aged 13, she is playing successfully across the Gulf, recently clinching the under 14 title at the Gulf Youth Tennis Championship in Kuwait on May 7.
School is the way forward for tennis
Fatima Al Janahi represents the new generation of UAE tennis players. Aged 13, she is playing successfully across the Gulf, recently clinching the under 14 title at the Gulf Youth Tennis Championship in Kuwait on May 7. However, as the only competitive female player currently on the scene, she also represents the inherent problems facing the Tennis Emirates (TE) team in their aim to produce talented players for the future.
Knocking about balls on the courts of the Al Nasr club in Dubai, Al Janahi is happy to be playing with the men and boys who make up the national team - including her two brothers. She appears unfazed by the lack of female competitors, benefiting as she does from practising with older, stronger players. The absence of other girls, however, highlights the significant lack of young, enthusiastic players available for selection.
Slah Bramly, the TE technical director, points the finger at a shortage of youngsters taking up the sport and a lack of facilities in all Emirates, which limits the potential pool of talent. "We have some great players here, some great potential, but it's not enough," says Bramly, waving his hand around the court at the youngsters. "The situation is not easy. We do not have too many social and sports clubs; there are just three open to everyone, all others are private or in hotels. So you see, there's a certain limitation for participation."
Without easily available facilities, and with tennis not featuring prominently in local schools, Bramly feels local youngsters have little opportunity to pick up the racquet; and, without an internationally successful national player to show the way, little inspiration either. "I never played tennis at school," Al Janahi explains between practice balls. "My older brother started, so I started playing and I liked it. None of my friends play though, it's just me. If you could learn tennis in school then I think lot more people would play."
Bramly, a Tunisian expatriate who took up the post with TE in 2001, hopes the next step will be to increase the profile of the sport in each Emirate, starting with the capital. "We would like to create a home for tennis in Abu Dhabi, possibly using the Zayed Sports City," says Bramly. "We used to have a few players there, based at the Al Jazira Club, but they now focus on other sports, not tennis. The majority of our players are based in Dubai; we have a couple of players in Fujairah, but mostly in Dubai.
"We are looking to create centres for tennis in each Emirate. But it is not easy. Even looking at starting four centres, each with four coaches, we're looking at a large expense. We're looking for sponsors to help fund this," Bramly continued. Increasing the exposure to the game in schools is also high on Bramly's agenda. "School is the way forward. It's the only way to find kids at a young stage.
"There is the interest, people are enthusiastic, so we hope a schools programme can come up shortly. Then we need a partnership between schools and local clubs, so kids can play in schools and then in their local clubs." Finance allowing, Bramly also hopes an academy, with youngsters receiving schooling and coaching under one roof, will not be too far behind. "The recreational system we have in the UAE will not create champions," says Bramly. "We need committed youngsters practising daily, followed by physical, followed by medical.
"In Europe they have schools specialising in specific sports, where they have schooling in the morning and practice their sport in the afternoon. We need the same structure here; it would benefit tennis in the UAE." email@example.com