Cayman juniors set for Florida tennis tourney

| 28/10/2018
CNS Local Life

Jake Booker (Photos by Martin Wilkinson)

(CNS Local Life): Four young tennis players from Cayman will be joining more than 1,000 others from around the world to compete at the Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Florida set for 9-18 December. Cayman will be represented by Jakub Neveril, Oskar Bjuroe, Jake Booker and Willow Wilkinson.

Held in Plantation, Florida, the event is for 12 and under and 14 and under players, with tennis professionals Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Bernard Tomic, Madison Keys and Andy Murray among past winners.

These youngsters qualify for the tournament by being either the No. 1- or No. 2-ranked player in their age groups in Cayman. Susan Lindsay, head of the Tennis Federation of the Cayman Islands (TFCI), said the experience should be “eye-opening”.

Helping prepare Booker, Bjuroe and Neveril for this high-powered competition is Caymanian Panav Jha, who grew up in Grand Cayman and was himself talented-spotted aged 14 at the Orange Bowl, and whisked away to train in Canada, a TFCI press release said. There, he became one of the country’s highest-ranked players and joined the Canadian national team. Jha, 26, is here in Cayman on a short break from his medical studies, heading back to the US in early November.

The group – joined by Lauren Fullerton, another leading junior — has been training for 1.5 hours, six days a week, and paying “a rate we’ve made affordable to parents”, said Jha.

He brings his experience in international junior tournaments to these intense training sessions. “Cayman is isolated, from a tennis perspective, and the kids here just don’t know how hard they need to train,” he said. “Elsewhere, four hours’ daily training on court for juniors is standard, on top of their school day.”

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Jakub Neveril

Jha said he hoped his tough training regime would “allow them to go and see, but not be afraid of, that competitive tennis world. I hope to give them the confidence to see they could be part of that.”

At 12, Neveril is the youngest member of Jha’s squad, which trains at the Cayman Islands Tennis Club (CITC). Neveril’s consistently proved himself the top player in his age group over the past four years in PwC-sponsored on-island junior tournaments, the release stated. He has also competed in Jamaica, New York, and the Czech Republic. One day, he said he’d like to be a pro player, but he’s “a little intimidated” by the Orange Bowl, he said.

Neveril will be the youngest-ever Cayman player to go to the Orange Bowl.

Cayman Prep student Booker, 14, is the PwC no.1-ranked player in his age group in Cayman, with CITC’s Ilian Nachev his chief coach since he took up the game four years ago. “I’m not too nervous, I’m excited to go,” Booker said. The long hours of intensive training with Jha had been good, he added. “It’s a lot, but it’s helpful, for sure. There’s a big concentration on fitness – a lot more than we’ve ever had before.”

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Oskar Bjuroe

Bjuroe, 14, said he loves “the variability of tennis: how different every point can be”. His biggest tennis influence has been Dale Avery, a former CITC coach. Booker is his chief rival, and this year his ambition is to beat him in the PwC Masters’ finals in November. “I’ve come second two years in a row,” he explained. Twice in recent PwC tournaments he came back from being 0-4 down and won the set. “That showed me that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”

He’s enjoying the training with Jha, noting: “It was tough in the beginning, because I wasn’t that fit, but I’ve got a lot fitter. That’ll benefit me at the Orange Bowl, and should also help next February when I’m doing a charity kitesurf from Little Cayman to Grand Cayman.”

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Willow Wilkinson

CITC coaches Nachev and Yana Koroleva, and Avery, are among those who have helped 14-year-old Wilkinson emerge as a top Cayman junior. She started playing aged 8, has made her way up the ranks, finally winning her first PwC tournament in January this year. She has competed overseas numerous times, and was proud to beat an 18-year-old in a US college-level competition this summer. “That was stand-out for me, because it gave me a feeling of belief and belonging,” she stated.

Wilkinson is excited to be going to the Orange Bowl: “It should be fun! And I think it’ll be good to play in one of the biggest tournaments and get to play against different girls.”

Lindsay of TCFI noted the improvement of tennis in Cayman, saying, “That we have four juniors going to the Junior Orange Bowl shows just how far junior tennis has developed in the past few years. The number of Cayman juniors competing overseas is at an all-time high, and reflects a growing confidence in their talent and level of play.”

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Category: Sports, Tennis

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  1. proudplayer says:

    Wishing all of you young competitors lots of luck and success at the Junior Orange Bowl. I know you will make your present and past coaches proud.