The training ground of champions

We have been lucky enough to work across many different areas of tennis but none is quite as close to our hearts as our involvement with junior tennis. 

My first experience of junior tennis was watching the boys’ and girls’ matches at the 2001 Wimbledon Championships as part of what was then a new writing gig for the International Tennis Federation (ITF). From the start I found it fascinating to see these talented young players serve their apprenticeship and learn not just about how to prepare for and win matches but also how to function in the unique atmosphere of a major tennis tournament. 

Faye Andrews, my co-director at The Emilia Group, spent eight years immersed in junior tennis as part of a long-term, full-time role at the ITF so her bond with this aspect of the sport is arguably even stronger than mine. That’s why we were both delighted when we began working with Tennis Europe at the start of this year, an organisation of member nations across the continent which runs, among other things, the Tennis Europe Junior Tour.

The TEJT has a roster of events for players aged 12-under, 14-under and 16-under, including a season-ending Masters tournament for the top eight players in each category. It boast players from more than 100 countries across Europe, players with a range of personalities and backgrounds with one thing in common - the desire and potential to end up being the best tennis players on the planet. Rafael Nadal, Justine Henin, Caroline Wozniacki, Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Maria Sharapova (to name just a few) were all in their shoes once; finding their way and growing up while playing Tennis Europe Junior Tour events. 

Rafel Nadal at a Tennis Europe junior tournament

That impressive list of former TEJT players is not limited to Europeans either; Guillermo Coria, Andy Roddick, Juan Martín Del Potro and Sania Mirza all got their first taste of European competition on the tour. If you go back further you get a sense of the role that Tennis Europe has played in nurturing some of the greatest players of all time, from Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to Steffi Graf, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker and Mats Wilander. 

Clockwise from top left: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray,
Roger Federer, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg
As part of our role as media consultants to Tennis Europe, we have twice been lucky enough to attend the Tennis Europe Junior Masters, which is held in Reggio Calabria each October. On both occasions we have loved watching how the players bond and learn from each other, as well as from the educational sessions held during the tournament in which we deliver interactive media training. The ethos of the Tennis Europe Junior Tour is very much like that of the global ITF Junior Circuit (which includes the 18-under Junior Grand Slam events) in that it combines the highest levels of competition and professional-standard tournaments with a commitment to support players’ off-court development too. 

These junior tours are designed to mirror the ITF Pro Circuit, ATP and WTA Tours in every way, even down to having a cumulative ranking system and anti-doping programme. In every sense it is where champions learn their trade.  

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