Oman’s young tennis stars of the future take to the court to showcase their skills and keep alive their dreams of Wimbledon glory. Alvin Thomas watched them.
There is tension and trepidation in the air as an umpire calls for quiet and two fledgling tennis stars get ready to lock horns.
The sweltering 32 degree midday heat means that keeping their racquet handles in a firm grip is a continual distraction.
But for these two competitors, that’s part and parcel of what they came here to do: to take home the trophy in the Red Pro category of the prestigious junior tennis tournament, at the Al Bustan Palace, A Ritz-Carlton Hotel, organised by Pro Tennis Oman.
After battling through the earlier rounds of the tournament to get to the final, it is Faisal Eihab Abutaha (son of Eihab Abutaha, the CEO of SABCO Media, publisher of Y Magazine), eight, and Lucie Watts, seven, who are vying for the esteemed trophy this year.
Cheers are reverberating around the court, and as the umpire signals the start of play, the two waste no time in getting on with it.
With some pretty sharp serving, Faisal appears initially to have the upper hand. However, Lucie adapts and begins to improve her returns, often slicing the ball back to keep it low, forcing her opponent to hit “up”.
But Faisal steps into the ball and starts taking it earlier, which leaves his opponent less time to get to the ball and make her return. It does, however, mean a higher margin for error for him.
Lucie’s retrieving skills prove up to the challenge and she goes up three-love, after deftly moving her opponent around the court.
However, Faisal’s hopes for the trophy haven’t faded just yet. He wins the next two points as a series of fierce topspin forehands and backhands keep Lucie pinned to the baseline. One of the points finishes after an intense three-minute rally.
Despite this, it seems as if Lucie’s tactics of mixing up the spin and pace of her shots have given her the edge. At match point down, Faisal pushes his return an inch long of the baseline and it’s game, set and match to Lucie. Final score: 7-2.
It has been a hard-fought match, and Lucie knows it. She is overjoyed but Faisal is gracious in defeat and warmly congratulates his opponent, as he poses for a picture.
Talking to Y after her win, Lucie says: “I feel very happy that I have won the finals, and I have had a lot of fun throughout. I have practised a lot over the last year and I want to carry on playing.”
When asked who her favourite tennis star was, she says instantly: “Serena Williams!”
Her mother, Janine Watts, adds: “My daughter has been practising tennis for the past three years and she likes to imitate the shots of Serena.
“But I am very happy, as she has fought very hard and played very well to make it this far.”
Faisal says: “I would like to thank my parents and my coach for helping me to improve my game. Last time, I had come in fourth, and this time, I have come second. I have had a lot of fun.”
Eihab Abutaha, the CEO of SABCO Media, chips in to say: “This tournament is all about experiencing the joy of the game. This teaches kids about patience, team spirit as well as kindness.
“Faisal has been training for three years now. And I am proud of him, as he is very talented and is focusing very well on his game.
“More importantly than progress in the actual game is his progress in his confidence, and his progress in interacting and learning how to lose and how to win.”
However, Faisal and Lucie aren’t the only ones training under Pro Tennis Oman. Currently, the seven-year-old organisation looks after 495 students who are enrolled in various programmes, of which 165 participants are taking part in the first tournament of its kind this season.
The groups are spread into various categories, namely: Mini Tennis Green 1, Mini Tennis Green 2, Mini Tennis Red (for beginners) and Red Pro (for more experienced children).
Talking to Y, Diana Maria, the event coordinator of Pro Tennis Oman, says: “We offer special programmes designed for players of various age categories. We basically start with the ‘baby tennis’ programme where we use special equipment: soft balls, small rackets and small nets to make it easy for the kids to play tennis.”
Gerard, the father of seven-year-old Lyas, hopes for the same, as he expects his son to grow into a professional tennis player.
“My son has been playing tennis for three years now, and he has improved so much over the
years. We take him for training, and I am personally involved with him so that he remains motivated. But Pro Tennis Oman has been doing a great job in setting the right platform for youngsters who want to play the game,”
Currently, Pro Tennis Oman allows parents to enroll their kids from the age of four. However, it also offers lessons to adults who are looking to pick up the sport.
“We hope to give everyone an opportunity to have more access to the game and start a good tennis career… hopefully,” says Diana.
“We already have some really talented children who are travelling around the world to represent the country in competitions that are linked to the International Tennis Federation (ITF),” she adds proudly.
And who knows: we may be looking at the future Novak Djokovics and Serena Williamses from Oman. But is that a dream or reality? Only time will tell.
[styled_box title=”Get Involved” color=”black”]