x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Nadal serves up a treat for fans

Stars Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer conduct youth clinics in advance of Mubadala Tennis Championships.

Roger Federer talks to local tennis players before conducting a clinic at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which is being held at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex.
Roger Federer talks to local tennis players before conducting a clinic at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which is being held at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex.

ABU DHABI // Rafael Nadal has lost to only a handful of tennis players this year, including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Yesterday two new names joined that select list - Victor Jovic, 9, and Atif Sheikh, 11.

After powering a winning overhead smash past the world No2, Victor declared that it felt "awesome".

He won the chance to compete against his favourite player, twice Wimbledon champion, by fighting his way to the finals of the Mubadala Community Cup this month.

"I was trying my best but I was nervous when the shot came up. But I went for it anyway and got it in," said the young Serbian, who lives in Dubai.

He was one of 40 youngsters who reached the finals of the Mubadala Community Cup. Each won a group session with Nadal in an hour-long coaching clinic and the chance to hit a few rallies at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, which started yesterday in Abu Dhabi.

Nadal clearly enjoyed the children's skills and was beaten on more than one occasion to the sound of cheers and applause from about 50 onlookers.

"I worked hard to win the competition," said Victor, who puts his compatriot and the world No1, Djokovic, as another of his favourite players.

He admitted it was hard to sleep the night before, knowing he was going to show off his backhand against the "King of Clay" at Zayed Sports City.

Victor's partner for the session, Atif, could hardly contain his excitement when he learnt he would be playing against Nadal.

"It was awesome," the Indian boy said. He and Victor usually play against each other in tournaments in Dubai but yesterday they beat Nadal in two rallies.

"We get really excited when these guys come to town," Atif said.

Nadal did not make it easy for the 40 youngsters: he hit hard and fast but most were able to respond with confident, strong shots.

"Of course we want to be as good as this. This is why we play," Atif said.

After the session, Nadal answered the children's questions, which included asking how many times he had won Wimbledon (two) and even the time of day. They asked if he thought he would win this weekend but he said he had a bad shoulder so was not sure.

He passed on tips about training and technique, then had his picture taken with the youngsters and signed autographs.

Shaitha Al Romaithi, a spokesperson for Flash Entertainment, which organised the tournament, said there was more to the coaching sessions than simply meeting the star players.

"These clinics provide children with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from the best in the business," she said. "We hope they take away valuable skills and are inspired by seeing these great athletes in action up-close on centre court."

On centre court, Roger Federer, who has won 16 Grand Slam singles titles, played against other children, who got the opportunity though tournament sponsors.

The Jordanian brother and sister Leyanne and Faisal Qubbaj were blown away by the advice he passed on. Federer gave Leyanne, 11, some useful tips on her return of serve.

"He told me to come closer to the net to get the match point," she said.

Faisal, 8, who plays three times a week, is going to all the matches this weekend. "It was awesome to play against Federer," he said.

Faisal has watched Federer play numerous times on television. "He's my role model and I was so excited when I heard I would be seeing him and playing against him," he said.

Federer takes on Djokovicat 3pm today and the match has sold out. Djokovic yesterday beat Gael Monfils 6-2, 4-6, 6-2.

Nadal faces David Ferrer at 5pm. Yesterday, Ferrer beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

The final is scheduled for 5pm tomorrow. The winner takes all of the $250,000 (Dh918,275) prize.

eharnan@thenational.ae