SEVEN countries have confirmed their participation in next month's Zonal East Africa Championships, which will be held at the Dar es Salaam Gymkhana Club (DGC).
These countries are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and the host Tanzania. The tournament is scheduled to be held from January 6 to the 12, as an opener to next year's tennis tournaments. The last time this tourney was held here was in 2009, so local players are pleased for this chance to play on home turf once more. In total 64 players have confirmed participation, out of which 22 are local.
It was during a conversation with the DGC Tennis Section Captain, Inger-Johanne Njau, that the 'Daily News' learnt this information. She also mentioned that each visiting country is allowed to have a maximum of 11 players, whilst the host country, Tanzania in this case, 22.
This has given them the freedom to prepare two teams of 11 players each. Four boys and four girls are in the Under 16 and 14 respectively, with three boys and three girls in the Under 12. Njau, who is also the Secretary General for the Tanzania Tennis Association (TTA) added that the youngest local player is ten years old and the eldest is sixteen.
She also confirmed that they are only able to hold the event from a grant they received from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and 10,000 USD from Tanga Cement. "Some of this money is used to run a training camp before the competition, so that our players can be well prepared.
Those visiting players that are coming are the top ones from their countries, so we expect the competition to be tough, but we have some good players here as well. We are happy that we got the chance to host the event because of the main benefit, which allows more of our players to participate.
Even if some of them won't be able to win many matches, they will get the exposure, which is also quite important," she said. According to the Tennis Captain, this camp started on Saturday, 15th of this month "softly" but by Monday, 17th it was well on the way.
The players had a few days off for the Christmas celebrations but have been practising all the other days. The 22 local players -- 11 of each gender -- are from Dar es Salaam and Arusha. Two players from Arusha are training at the ITF training centre in Burundi, six have stayed in Arusha and two are here in Dar es Salaam.
There are two coaches training here in the City and one in Arusha. They will continue to help during the competition, with the main referee, Patrick Kamuhia from Kenya, who, Njau says is the top referee in East Africa. With an important event like this, which she says is a qualifier for the Africa Junior Championship (AJC), it is important to have a very good referee.
"Since 2006 we have had players who qualify for the AJC. This year five qualified so when it comes to the level of tennis in Tanzania, we've seen for the past five or six years, our level is at par with the stronger ones in the region, like Burundi and Kenya. Our top players are more or less at the same level as theirs," she added.
However, she continued to say to date the best result the local youth teams have achieved was in the AJC in 2009, when a local player became number 10 in the Under 14. In the Zonals there has been local players getting into the finals but not beyond this.
Another reason why they are pleased to be host of next month's Zonal is because local players will be using the courts they're used to. That way they'll be playing on the hard surface, which they are accustomed to. In those other countries they have to play on clay courts.
Njau mentioned Martin Yona, in the Under 14, as one of the local promising players. During a short conversation with the 'Daily News', Martin, who just completed Form One at Kenton High School on the Mwenge outskirts of the City said that he has been playing tennis since 2007, when he was introduced to the game by his elder sister.
Rather ironically she no longer plays. Tennis he says keeps his mind alert and gives him something positive to use up his spare time with. The up-coming championships will be his first time to have reached the Zonal. Within the same category as Martin is Georgina, who is studying at Kaindoah Riaanventer Tennis Academy in Port Mcestroom, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg in South Africa.
Georgina, who Njau also had words of praise for, had signed-up for the tournament not knowing about the camp. For her this pre-tournament training is an extra bonus. She admitted having some advantages training in South Africa but added that with the increase of training opportunities like the camp, it becomes enjoyable and beneficial, and playing in the tournament is a good experience to play against people who are the best in their countries.
Another person spoken to was John Njau in the Under 16 category. He played in this year's Zonal championship, which was held in Burundi and qualified for the AJC. He came to the camp when it opened so that he can get a better chance of qualifying for the AJC again.
He told the 'Daily News' next month's tournament is important because, "that's what kick-starts a good successful year". Before leaving the camp site, the 'Daily News', had the opportunity to get a word from the coach, Kiyangu Kipingu. The DGC Tennis Captain had mentioned him as being one of the main initiators behind this camp.
From his position as a professional player and coach he pushed for it because of the high importance he puts on training before a tournament. "The camp is important because we've been used to going straight to a tournament without preparations.
I've seen other countries where people go into camp for even three months beforehand. They don't go home over this period. We don't have money and that is why we cannot accommodate these children properly, but with this camp they get a better chance of coming out with something," Kipingu said.