Tennis stars committed to WTA Future Stars Programme
WTA development programme set to grow, with the help of the stars
REPORTING FROM KUALA LUMPUR
When Karman Thandi made it to the third round of the girls' singles event and then teamed up with fellow Indian hopeful Pranjala Yadlapalli to reach the quarter-finals of the girls' doubles event at this year's Australian Open, the organisers of the WTA Future Stars programme would have been bursting with pride.
Karman, 17, and Pranjala, 16, won the Future Stars Under-16 tournament at the WTA Finals in Singapore in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The WTA Future Stars is a developmental platform to promote tennis among children throughout the Asia-Pacific.
Made up of the clinic, master class and tournament programme, each of these WTA Future Stars components is targeted at a specific group of youths to encourage them to take the next step in their interest in tennis.
The number of participating countries has increased from 12 in the inaugural 2014 season to 17 last year and each nation will host qualifying events to determine one representative in the U-14 and U-16 competitions at the year-end tournament held during the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Melissa Pine, vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and WTA Finals tournament director, told The New Paper the initiative is set to expand further with the aim to make it a global hit.
Pine, speaking on the sidelines of the BMW Malaysian Open yesterday, said: "The WTA Future Stars event is a partnership between WTA and Sport Singapore to promote and develop the sport in Singapore and across the region and to inspire young kids to play tennis and to live healthier lives through sport.
"Karman and Pranjala's recent success demonstrate the quality that is in Singapore for the WTA Future Stars, that it is a very high-calibre event.
"We definitely envision more countries taking part this year. It's shown to be such a relevant and viable programme that we definitely see it being a global programme down the road, for it to feature the best young players in the world."
Key to the success of the initiative has been the willingness of the tour's top stars to get involved.
Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei, a former world No. 1 women's doubles player and two-time Grand Slam women's doubles champion, turned up at yesterday's WTA Future Stars clinic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, to the delight of 15 kids from Rumah Charis, a social services organisation benefiting children and the elderly, and 10 young tennis players.
The 30-year-old (above) is in KL for the Malaysian Open, which is a stop on the Road to Singapore for the WTA Finals.
She told TNP: "It was great to come out today to play with the kids because I think it is important to encourage the next generation as they are the future of our sport.
"I started playing tennis when I was five. I was in their shoes so I'm glad to spend some time with them. A few of them managed to hit fierce forehands and clever lobs, so who knows, maybe one of them will be a future WTA star."
Pine added: "The WTA athletes are incredible athletes both on and off the court.
"They have come up as little girls looking up to their idols, and that's why the players want to give back.
"We can't do it without inspiring the kids. When kids are inspired, that's where you see the most progress.
"For example, we had a WTA Future Stars master class in India last July with world No. 1 women's doubles player Sania Mirza and Martina Navratilova, the greatest women's tennis player of all time, and Karman shared the same court with them.
"As for the Future Stars tournament in Singapore, with the young players being on the same court as the top eight players in the world, to be getting autographed rackets from Serena Williams, to be on the same stage as her for the draw ceremony and to see what a day in their life is like and getting mentoring opportunities. That is what catapults these juniors."