Young Callum Theaker, a relative newcomer to tennis, caused the biggest upset in the latest junior PriceWaterhouseCoopers tournament when he crushed the seemingly indomitable Nicky Polloni in the Under-11 final.
St. Ignatius pupil Theaker, 11, lost just three games in the two-set final, suggesting he may be emerging as the new king for his age group. Ten-year-old Polloni has reigned supreme in the Under-11s for the past two years, though Theaker’s rapid improvement means that he had been edging closer to Polloni – his best friend — in recent months. But he had never beaten him until last week.
“This is a huge milestone, the first time Callum has beaten Nicky,” said Cayman Islands Tennis Club manager Rob Seward. “A week before the tournament, Callum asked me how he could beat Nicky – that’s what he wanted to do, and he wanted to figure out how to do it.
“Callum is by far the hardest-working junior we have, and deserves his success. He’s here at least six times a week on top of his two group lessons plus a private lesson with club coach Dale Avery. He’s always hitting with other juniors or his father. He hasn’t even been playing for a year. He’s our fastest-improved kid, and the reason for that is his work ethic.”
The PriceWaterhouseCoopers tournament, the fifth of the 2011 series, was held at The Ritz Courts where tennis director Thomas Neuert watched part of the Polloni-Theaker battle.
“You could say Callum’s win was perhaps 20 per cent due to Nicky not playing his best, but really, 80 per cent of the credit has to go to Callum for playing more aggressive tennis,” said Neuert.
“He’s hitting deep and solid, and because he practises so much, he’s become very consistent. Nicky used to be the most consistent Under -11 player, but now Callum’s just as consistent, plus he’s got a bit of pace, being that much taller and stronger. Callum was just overpowering Nicky at times.
“Callum’s a great example of what you can achieve if you practise. Nicky Polloni was always the top guy, and now Callum’s beaten him. He’s probably the most improved player this year. That’s no coincidence, he spends two or three times more time on the court than the others.”
Theaker said he was not surprised by his easy victory. He said: “No, I wasn’t surprised by the score, more just happy. I kept it cool. Yeah, Nicky and I are best friends, but when it comes to tennis I love to win and I just stayed focused and played my best.”
Theaker’s goal now, he said, is to win the most points in the final two tournaments of the 2011 season and be crowned Under-11 champion, the prize for which is a week’s coaching at the Bollettieri tennis academy in Florida. He credited his coaches Avery and Seward “for getting me to an extra level of tennis… Dale always stays late after our lesson and does an extra 30 minutes with me in his time”. Theaker and Polloni defeated James Priaulx and Reese Hoeksema respectively in the Under-11 semi finals.
In the boys’ Under -14 division, Simon Butler and Daniel Reid continued their long-time rivalry for dominance, with Butler emerging the victor after squeaking past Reid with a 6-1, 0-6, 10-8 win in the final. Butler, a product of the tennis club junior programme, “is a smart player”, said Seward. “He thinks about what he’s doing, he looks for opportunities and takes them when he sees them.”
Nicky Polloni – who played in this division as well as the Under-11 – lost out 5-7 to Butler in their semi-final, while Reid defeated Nicholas Leonard 7-0 in the other semi. Earlier in the competition, which had a round-robin format, Leonard turned in promising performances against Simon Butler (3-4) and Matteo Polloni (4-3).
In the girls’ Under-14 section, Emma Booker was the winner in a field of three, beating her friend and fellow Ritz player Abby Lindsay. Booker, 13, a pupil at Montessori by the Sea, “is very athletic and very driven, very competitive, and happy to have a separate division for the U14 girls”, said Neuert.
Arin Broderick was the third entrant: “I think she enjoyed the tournament, and for her first tournament she did really well,” said Neuert. “We were really excited to have her play, and hope to see her in many more tournaments to come.”
Alex Leonard, one of the top-ranked players among the adults at the club, took an easy win over Eddie Bodden in the Under-18 final. Unfortunately, Leonard’s serious rivals have faded from the junior tennis scene in recent months. Talented brothers Morgan and William Hayward have dropped out of the sport and Marc Reid, elder brother to Daniel, left Grand Cayman for boarding school in Toronto in September. Leonard looks set to become the Under-18 PwC junior tennis champion at the year’s end, when he will join the Under-11 and Under-14 winners for the ultimate prize of a week’s free coaching at the Bollettieri academy.
The next PwC tournament will be held at Camana Bay on 4-5 November, with the top eight players in each age group qualifying for the PwC Finals Tournament at the CITC on 2-3 December. The PwC junior circuit is run by the Tennis Federation of the Cayman Islands, with the help and support of local coaches.