Kids expect smashing time

Cayman has produced many talented tennis players over the years and out of the latest crop of youngsters, two are in St Vincent this week competing in the Caribbean Under-14 Championships.

They are Alex McCallum and Alex Leonard, the island’s two best 13-year-old boys. Leonard is Cayman’s junior open champion, beating McCallum in the final. They are accompanied to St Vincent by former Caymanian player David Berry who now coaches.

McCallum has been playing on and off since he was four. He loves smashing the ball and would like to be a pro – if he doesn’t become a swimmer. ‘This is my first time playing tennis abroad for Cayman but I’ve swam for them in Barbados and Jamaica,’ he said. ‘The only time I played tennis overseas before was in a tournament on a family trip to California. I’m looking forward to playing doubles with Alex so we can form a partnership and beat everybody. I know nothing about the opposition, I’ll just see how they play in the warm-up.’

Cayman Islands Tennis Club manager Rob Seward said: ‘This tournament will be a good test for them. McCallum went to Miami in the spring and competed against the best kids in Florida.

‘Tennis has been rich in producing juniors in Cayman in the past but instead of just individuals going to international tournaments, we want at least five every time. This is what Pranav Jha (the brilliant 15-year-old Caymanian who has gained a scholarship to train in Canada) was doing a couple of years ago and look where he is now.

‘In the past we’ve produced good players like David Berry, Nigel Mitten and Charlie Thompson. Mitten was good enough to turn pro and got a world ranking. He’s the only one on the island who’s ever got one.’

Leonard used to play baseball as well but had to drop it when school work became too demanding. ‘In the tournament in Miami, I learned that there’s lots of harder people out there,’ he said. ‘My favourite shot is top spin and I would say I’m more of a baseline player. I really enjoy tennis, it’s pretty fun and it helps that I live close by.’

Seward, a former pro, is very excited by the crop of talent in Cayman. ‘We currently have 85 juniors in the programme we’re trying to establish. We want more. There’s a lot of sport on the island but this is better than stuck indoors on a computer, it keeps them healthier. I had a junior programme in San Diego involving 300 kids who all played in national tournaments. That’s what I want for these kids, it also helps give them a lifetime of knowledge.’

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