Eight-year-old Mariam is raring to go. Dressed smartly in her whites, brandishing a tennis racket and with a competitive glint in her eye, she clearly can’t wait to get out on the court and work up a sweat. ‘I play tennis with my brother, Mubarak,’ she says, pointing to the little boy sitting next to her. ‘He’s five – and we’ve been having lessons for about a year now. My favourite bit is the winning. I just love the competitions.’
And she’s not alone. In fact approximately 40 children aged eight to 10 years pitched up for the first Barclays Junior Tennis Championships last month. It is hoped the competition, which was open to all tennis fans aged eight and over and sponsored by Barclays, Dubai Duty Free and Emirates Tennis, will become an annual event.
Adeeb Maliakkal, a senior tennis coach at Clark Francis Tennis, which helped organise the Junior Championships as a pre-event for young tennis fans ahead of the grown-up, professional version later this month, is pleased about a growing enthusiasm for the sport.
‘We want to attract fresh talent into tennis and generate more interest in the adult competition. Encouraging kids to take up the sport is a great way of doing that,’ he says.
According to Adeeb, who’s been coaching young hopefuls for nigh on a decade, tennis is not only an economical sport – approximately Dhs50 buys you an hour-long lesson with racket and ball rental thrown in – but one that has many other benefits, too. ‘All sports are good for you – but tennis is specifically about coordination, balance and reaction time. In terms of improving hand-to-eye coordination, it’s fantastic, and when kids are physically confident, that can have a knock-on effect in other areas of their lives.’
Although tennis doesn’t directly work on team skills – the biggest team game you’ll get is a doubles match – it does encourage a sense of competition and is great for improving all-round fitness. ‘Most tennis schools start coaching kids at the age of four and, at the moment, Clark Francis is teaching around 500 youngsters of varying ages at its schools around the emirate. And we’re finding demand is increasing. I’m not sure if that’s because tennis has become very popular because of the Dubai Tennis Championship or whether it’s the general sense of competition that keeps kids interested.’
Either way, the young hopefuls who took part in the first Junior Tennis Championship are adamant they will continue to take lessons and enjoy the sport. Tarek Najia, aged eight, says, ‘I’ve been playing tennis for three years, and ideally I’d like to do it when I grow up. Rafael Nadal is my favourite player, although there are lots of other tennis stars I like too. I really enjoy the sport and the competitions are the best bit. I don’t get nervous – I just get excited.’
Fellow player, nine-year-old Sushan Satish adds, ‘I’ve been playing since I was four – and I’ve noticed that tennis has really helped build up my stamina. I have much more energy than my friends who don’t play sports regularly. I’d love to play professionally – I won a gold medal in a competition last year, but only time will tell.’
To sign up for tennis lessons, contact Clark Francis Tennis on 04 282 3430; email@example.com.
Anyone for tennis?
The Barclays Dubai Tennis Championship opens on February 14 with a whole host of international tennis stars taking part. The event, which offers US$1million in prize money, will see the likes of the Williams sisters, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer battle it out at the Dubai Tennis Stadium in Garhoud.
See www.barclaysdubaitennischampionships.com for details. Tickets from www.timeouttickets.com.