The Oak Bay Tennis Club hosted its third annual Juniors Challenger tournament this past weekend, with more girls entering this year than ever before.
With Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard rising to number seven in the world, young tennis players have a strong role model to look up to, someone who’s made quite the splash in the tennis world, and parents are taking notice.
“Three years ago Eugenie Bouchard played a Vancouver tournament, and then she made it to Wimbledon,” said Sarah Michieli, whose daughter Jessa, 12, has been playing since she was five years old. “In the last two years, there’s been a huge jump in younger girls playing.”
Jessa, who competed for the third year running in the tournament, is coached by Oak Bay’s own Art Hobbs, though the Michielis live in the Cowichan valley.
Eleven-year-old local Devon Mills, Jessa’s opponent, has also been playing since she was five, and was excited and nervous for her first tournament. Devon and her mother, Anne, are both members of the Oak Bay tennis club, and the tournament offered a close to home opportunity for Devon to get some more competitive experience on the court.
Both girls cited Bouchard as one of their favourite players, and are a clear example of the increasing interest of younger players.
“When (Bouchard) won Junior Wimbledon (two years ago), that was the first time we really took notice,” said Victor Anonsen, tennis professional at the club. Since then, he said he’s seen a marked increase in people playing, especially on the numerous public courts in town.
It’s a great sport for kids to get involved in, said Anonsen.
“It’s a game for life. Anybody can play it. All you need is one other person, a racquet and a ball.”
He noted that it is beneficial to have a few lessons when first beginning to learn the proper mechanics, as he believes it’s the most difficult of the racquet sports, and that it’s “good to have someone experienced to keep you from just chasing the ball around.”
For girls in particular, having strong tennis skills can also lead to university scholarships, he said.
This year’s round of the Tennis BC-sanctioned tournament finished with Michieli winning the under-12 category, and Mills bringing in runner-up.
Tennis has always been a popular sport, and with the buzz that Bouchard’s been making, it’s clear that players of a younger generation are taking up their racquets in earnest.