Janahi has Florida in his sights

The teenager tells why he is looking forward to developing his game in the renowned American college system.

Hamad al Janahi has urged his siblings to join the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
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Hamad al Janahi is still a teenager but with Davis Cup games under his belt, and with the experience of being coached in Europe, he is well placed to explain why the country's brightest young prospects have to leave the country in order to stand a chance of turning professional.

And it is in America, where he hopes to secure a four-year scholarship at the University of South Florida, in Tampa, that he has pinned his hopes of gaining the skills to make it happen. Hamad, 19, who has made four appearances for the UAE Davis Cup team, says he should have moved at the age of 13 but he was unaware that his opportunities would be so limited in Dubai. "I keep staying here and my level keeps going down and all the hard work I put in is for nothing," he said.

"I went to Spain in the summer and I improved a lot, and then I came back and I didn't improve, I just kept my level. I want to keep improving." He believes Dubai is a good place to start but when players reach their teens, they need to move on. "The thing is, our population is so low and it is hard to find people who want to play tennis," he said. "Tennis is not a game that everyone can play. It is a game that you have to pay a lot for it, you have to work so hard and you can't keep anything on your mind and there is no social life."

But things are changing, says Eric Gottschalk, managing director of MediaPro, which manages the UAE Tennis Association. From next month a new tennis structure will come into effect. Five circuits will be established from school age to veterans and each one must stage a minimum number of tournaments to meet the Association's criteria. Gottschalk also says a full-time national team coach will be appointed later this year.

In al Janahi's adult age group, 15 tournaments must be held to give local players a chance to compete. "In the past the support structure was not as good as it could be," he said. "There should be more competitions, which would attract players from the GCC region to come and play." On average, Gottschalk says, junior tennis players should play between 80 and 100 matches a season. This has not been happening in the Emirates.

Despite the changes, al Janahi is urging his father to send his sister Fatima, 14, a GCC junior champion and his brother Fahd, 11, to a tennis academy abroad. He is recommending his younger siblings move to Florida to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which has been around for over three decades and developed players of the calibre of Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi. "Next year they must leave if they want to improve," he said. "I have experience in this because I would have been much better than I am if I didn't stay here. If I left when I was 13, I would have been better."

Al Janahi also says the weather conditions make it very difficult to train at a reasonable time of the day. "You can't play in the mornings and you can only play after 7pm, when the day is already finished," he said. "You can't be playing and train from 7pm to midnight, it doesn't work like that. Who is going to play late at night?" Al Janahi's move to the American college circuit is a smart move and a great opportunity, says Gottschalk, who also played in the US during his college years.

"It is the closest to professional tennis, not only are you taking care of your education but at the same time you are really training like a professional," Gottschalk said. "For Hamad this is fantastic opportunity and I hope he becomes a better tennis player because he will still be on the national team here and he will support them very much." Al Janahi's decision to finally move came after watching his friends on the junior international circuit improve their game after moving to America.

He applied to several American universities and was accepted at the Florida University where he will play under head coach Don Barr. For the first semester, he will practice with the 16-man squad and will then wait to find out if he has been selected as one of the final eight players to compete for the university in the league. If he does, it means he will have a four-year scholarship to play and study, and if not, he says there are plenty of other options across the US.

"Every two weeks you play a tournament in other parts of America," he said. "It will be nice because you're part of a professional team with coaches and trainers. That's what you want as a player, to be part of a team." While he is focused on making it in the college league he hasn't forgotten about his national duties. He will be back to make his fifth appearance during next year's Davis Cup tournament.

sports@thenational.ae