Last week I had the pleasure of taking a group of LTA Level 4 Senior Performance Coach Candidates out to 'Les Petits As' in Tarbes, France with colleague Simon Jones.
Les Petits As (English: small champions) is a premier junior tennis tournament, often considered the unofficial 14&U world junior championships, or at very least, the European equivalent of the junior Orange Bowl in Florida, U.S.A. It is held in Tarbes in the South of France, very close to the Pyrenees and Spanish border.
With a main draw size of 64 and 48 in qualifying, roughly 7,000 players enter the pre-qualifying tournaments held across France, with that number being narrowed down to 350 for the final qualifying stage. Surface is Green Set hard courts and the event is held in the Parc des Expositions in the town.
Due to the relatively restrictive age range, few players have won the title more than once, although Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky have both done so. Also upcoming Spanish player Carlos Boluda recently became the first boy to do so. Previous main draw players in the event went on to make up a 'who's who' of current Grand Slam champions and top-10 ATP and WTA players.
A few observations
- Pretty much all recent Grand Slam champions and top 10 ATP/WTA players were main draw Tarbes players, not necessarily winning it, but getting through to quarters and semis. Take the 4 finalists of this year's Australian Open: R. Federer 1/8 Finalist, Marin Cilic 1/4 finalist, Simona Halep 1/4 finalist, Caroline Wozniacki 1/4 finalist. This gives us some pretty strong indicators that to become one of the very top players in the world, you need to be pretty darn good by 13/14 years old!
- In the main, both boys and girls showed great commitment to coming forwards, finishing at net with volley/drive volley combinations
- There was plenty of variation, change of pace, slice
- The best players had weapons, very clear idea of how they wanted to 'win' points
- A wonderful example of one highly competitive girl who got to the semis with a slice FH only, average serve and loopy backhand, but was a fantastic athlete, ran like mad and absolutely maximised what she had! A great example of FAWTW (finding a way to win!). On evidence, perhaps not one for the long-term but certainly re-enforced that tennis is a game and within it's rules we can choose to play how we like!
- Performer (mental and physical) first, tennis player (technical and tactical) second. For semis and finals, centre court was packed with what must have been over 2000 spectators making all sorts of noise. The ability of 13 years olds to handle this was incredible to see. Superb resilience, emotional control, maturity. Top performers, delivering the goods under pressure. Technique not perfect, especially the girls (serve) and breaking swing lines on ground-strokes, but absolute performers who managed themselves fantastically well.
- The French can put on a tournament! Great buzz, whole town came out to support, hundreds of school children baying for autographs of the players at end of matches!
Alexandra Eala (PHI) beat Linda Noskova (CZE)
Victor Lilov (BUL) beat Mikhail Gorokhov (RUS)