x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emirati talent to emerge, says coach Rustom

But for that to happen he is training youth to be good "ball kids".

Ghyath Rustom has spent the past eight weeks coaching 30 children between the ages of 12 and 16 – and of both sexes – the skills required to be an efficient ball boys.
Ghyath Rustom has spent the past eight weeks coaching 30 children between the ages of 12 and 16 – and of both sexes – the skills required to be an efficient ball boys.

ABU DHABI // The six famous faces plastered around Zayed Sports City Tennis Complex may be familiar foreigners, but Ghyath Rustom, the Palestinian who has spent 25 years coaching in the region, is convinced that within four years the likes of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will be accompanied by an Emirati professional on the ATP Tour.

Rustom, 50, has spent the past eight weeks coaching 30 children between the ages of 12 and 16 - and of both sexes - the skills required to be an efficient ballboy.

"Elegance, neatness and the proper way," is how Rustom describes what he teaches, and he is adamant that his lessons will benefit the country in the long run.

"We look for kids with a tennis background, because they need to understand how the game is unfolding.

"But if you look at the professional players now, all of them were once ball-kids," he said ahead of his final preparations for the start of today's Mubadala World Tennis Championships.

"When you talk about getting the kids from the school and getting them interested and involved in tennis, you need to bring them here and let them see it and feel the power and gain the ambition to become a professional tennis player.

"Then, if you return to this country in four years, you will find an Emirati on the ATP Tour."

Rustom represented Palestine at the international level in the early 1980s before quitting the game to attain his coaching qualifications in London.

After a spell in Syria he moved to the UAE and has witnessed the enthusiasm grow locally since the capital's inaugural tennis tournament in 2008.

"Before it was limited, but now the Emiratis are a lot more open to be involved in the event itself and involved in tennis," he said. "People want to play now and much of that is because of this event. It has opened their eyes because when you mention Federer and Nadal, they light up."

The annual Mubadala Community Cup was oversubscribed this year, while 17 potential ballboys had to be turned away because of heightened interest.

"Every year the interest is getting higher," said Rustom, who added he has already earmarked a few of his young proteges as potential future pros. "It depends on some factors, of course - you need a lot of money - but we have a good base. There are three or four children that I am teaching now: they have the interest, their parents have the interest.

"In three or four years we will hear of them."

For now though, Rustom's job is simply to convince the ballboys to relax and banish their fears and enjoy the occasion of gracing their local tennis court alongside six of the world's best players.

"Some of the ball-kids are shaking through nerves, so we will go for a little walk, do some exercises and try to calm their emotions," he said. "After that, then they can enjoy the tennis."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae