THERE was a notable difference in the standard of competition at the just-concluded 2013 ITF/CAT East African Tennis Junior Championships.
All those spoken to, while the tournament, which is a qualifier for the Africa Junior Championship (AJC) was in progress, at the Dar es Salaam Gymkhana Club (DGC), agreed with this sentiment.
The seven participating countries - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya and the host Tanzania - displayed a higher level of tennis than at the last episode, three years ago in Burundi. In one conversation the Burundi national coach, Hasani Mirisho, told the 'Daily News' he found the playing harder this year than all previous ones.
He also admitted seeing how much benefit can be gained from starting to train children at a very young age. This he saw, was evident in the standard of tennis played by local players compared to their ability in the past. The Kenyan Assistant Coach, Veronica Osogo, the only female trainer in the tournament expressed similar views.
"The tennis is nice. The competition is good and really tight. You can see that everyone wants to make it. What I like is that you can see they're all fighting. They all want to qualify for the AJC and then they are also going to have the overall positioning of each country.
So everybody wants to be there," Osogo added. She also talked about some of her players losing in very close matches in the semi-finals to Burundi, but played very well. That is why on their return home, earlier this week, they planed continuing with their training.
Seeing that the AJC is going to be held in Nairobi this coming March gives them more reason not to relax but to keep pushing for better. The girls U-14 singles winner, Mariam Mujawimana from Burundi, who beat local girl Georgina Kaindoah 6-1, 7-5 for that honour, told the 'Daily News' it was a good game, which she won simply because she had more confidence than her opponent, who played well.
When asked for her opinion of the game Georgina replied it was good and she went through with a fighting spirit holding her own. All-the-same, she wants to do better in the AJC and win her age category.
When asked how she felt a couple hours before the close of the tournament on Saturday, the DGC Tennis Section Captain, Inger Njau, who is also the Secretary General for the Tanzania Tennis Association (TTA), simple replied,
"I feel relieved because it has been quite demanding to organize everything." She referred to having the two-week training camp prior to the competition helping but not an end in itself, for it takes years to build a good tennis player and "not a quick fix in two weeks."
"What I find is that we are kind of reaping the fruits from the past ten years, in which we've been trying to be more active, have more competitions locally and better training, sometimes from outside coaches and even our own, whose skills are also improving. So when you put everything together that is why you can see the level of tennis in the country is improving.
Tanzania coming over-all second place to Burundi in the first," demonstrates this. Without support from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and local sponsors like Simba Tanga Cement this would have never been possible," she maintains. The Head Referee, Patrick Kamuhia from Kenya congratulated Tanzania for securing second position in the over-all score and successively hosting the event for the second time now.
He expressed being very happy for being part of a "very high and good" event, as was evident from the first to the last matches. The ITF Development Officer, Thierry Ntwali said he was pleased to see that the local TTA is working. "Tanzania has a federation but also had a team participating in the event.
The organization was perfect and the team performed well. Now that they have qualified for the AJC they need to continue playing and do very well in this championship. For the region, I think the level of playing has improved a lot," Ntwali said.