Cayman Islands have never been blessed with a world class tennis player – despite its excellent facilities – but that could soon change thanks to the brilliance of the resident coach.
Much travelled Mexican Eduardo ‘Eddy’ Torres was a world ranked player in the Nineties playing around America, Canada and Europe with various success. When the demands of playing and nomadic life got too much he retired to become a coach, first landing here in 1999 before returning two years ago to be head coach at the Cayman Islands Tennis Club in South Sound.
He still competes at a high level at 35 and was good enough to win a gold medal at the Island Games for Cayman in Greece last month. In the final in Rhodes Torres met Bermuda’s Andy Bray in one of the most entertaining matches of the tournament. ‘It was pretty tough,’ says Torres. ‘They had poor facilities and it was very windy but it was the same for everybody. It brought out the best in us. I had to go through five matches to get to the final, beating a tough Minorcan (Spain) in the semis.
‘Against Bray I had to fight for every point, he was really good. I won the first set 6-3 and was leading in the second set 4-2 before he started playing amazing shots, bigger serves. He came back to lead 5-4. I broke serve to pull it back to 5-5 but he won the second set 7-5. In the third set I won on a tie breaker. Tough, tough match. I was exhausted.’
Torres beat a Caymanian in the quarter-finals, the wonder kid Pranav Jha, a towering six-footer who is only 15. ‘I won two-nil but it wasn’t easy,’ says Torres. ‘I had to play like it was the final. He knew my game so well and I had to concentrate for every point.
‘Winning gold was great. Everybody predicted that I wouldn’t win because there were a lot of good players. I just took it one round at a time. Being only 5ft 7in I have to move in a bit and hit the ball with a lot of slice so the tall players have to hit low. I was attacking at the net and rushing in to break down their rhythm.
‘Some players I served and volleyed and others I used a lot of top spin to push them against the fence. I felt very happy winning that gold. Could not believe it.’
Winning golds has been a regular feature of Torres’s achievements. As a pro he won one for Latin America playing for Mexico in 1992. (He also won two silvers and a bronze at the Island Games in Gibraltar two years ago.)
Born in Puerto Vallarta, he picked up a racket at five and showed so much talent that from the age of 12 till 17 he was a regular at the John Newcombe Tennis Academy in San Antonio, Texas before moving to Barcelona to hone his skills at the academy there. Competition took him all over, reaching No.382 in the world in his prime.
His last stint in Canada – where he still has a house – lasted two years. Flitting around the world has stopped now, he has settled in Grand Cayman. He even has a daughter going to school here. ‘I love the weather and lifestyle here and the potential to develop international players like Parnav. I didn’t like the minus 30, minus 40 conditions in Calgary in the winter and having to play indoors there. I grew up in this type of weather.’
Torres believes Jha has the potential to be a top 10 player. ‘He’s so good because he has the drive and the game. We need more players like him here.’ With Jha Cayman won bronze in the doubles at the Island Games.
Jha used to play baseball seriously ‘but I like tennis more, it’s faster and an individual sport’. He caught the bug from his dad who everyone knows as Dr. Jha and hopes one day to be challenging the likes of Roger Federer. ‘I was in an academy in California, The Weil where I trained seven hours a day. I’m training five hours a day here and home schooling.’ He was a pupil at St Ignatius until January.
Alas, in September, the boy wonder is leaving these shores for a year to represent… Canada. ‘There is no significant junior tennis programme here,’ Jha explains. ‘And the Canadians are putting a lot of money into theirs so it makes sense to go to Montreal.’
Next time he plays Torres in a competitive match, who knows, the result could be different. ‘Eddy read me like a book at the Island Games. I lost 6-1, 6-2 but believe it could have been a lot closer if I’d been on the other side of the draw and got to the semis or even the final.’
Just how good is Jha? ‘Well I’ve beaten all the best of my age in the Caribbean and consider myself No.4 in Canada. I think that having already beaten a few top Americans I could take on their top guys. I want to be No.1 in the world, obviously and I know what it takes to be in the top 20. I want to emulate Federer, his coolness is amazing. Even when he’s losing he’s calm. The fame. That’s something else I want, not so much the money.’ In the meantime he’ll concentrate on beating Torres next time.