British Columbia’s best junior tennis players rallied it out on Langford’s red-clay courts this week as they tried to tune up for or earn their spot in next month’s national championship.
The Bear Mountain 5 Star junior championship attracted the top U14 and U12 players from across the province to the resort community’s tennis centre from Aug. 18 to 22.
The tournament served as a make-up competition for last year’s cancelled provincial championship. Bear Mountain tennis director Joe Wood thought giving the under 14 players some reps on the resort’s red-clay courts would help them prepare for the upcoming junior nationals’ clay contests.
As the U14 side wrapped up Friday, the girls’ champ welcomed the playing surface.
“I like competing on the clay, it was fun because normally we’re on hard courts all the time,” said Surrey’s Abigeyle Bhopal. “I like playing tennis, but I also probably like winning the most. It feels the best.”
Bhopal came back to win after losing the first set. As for what changed in the final two sets, “I guess I stopped sucking,” the 12-year-old said.
Wood said the clay surface slows the pace of play, resulting in long rallies. That was the case for the all-Coquitlam boys U14 final match.
“On clay, it’s much tougher,” said U14 champ Owen Nguyen. “On those long rallies, you have to stay focused, stay in the point. You can’t give away any easy or free points.”
Junior tournaments picked up this summer after the pandemic bounced most of the last year’s contests.
“It feels great just to be back on the court, competing and having fun,” Nguyen said.
Wood commended the young players for their patience.
“It’s been a strange year for everyone, I think the kids deserve an enormous amount of credit,” he said. “Watching them play and compete against their peers and friends is just a joy and I hope that they realize how lucky they are to be able to do this and be grateful that they’re able to compete again.”
The kids usually train in groups, but had to practice alone or maybe with a partner during the pandemic.
“I think that’s tough mentally as well as physically for the kids,” Wood said.
But the pandemic hasn’t impeded the skill among junior athletes.
“It’s pretty amazing to see 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds play at this level,” Wood said.
With Canadian role models like 2019 US Open champ Bianca Andreescu, Denis Shapovalov and more, the tennis director said the future is looking bright.
“That is just creating more and more of a buzz for tennis and I think it’s just growing as a sport here.”
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