While all eyes are on the first week of Wimbledon, closer to home the Clubworld Travel 2014 Ulster Junior Open Tennis championship was launched at the Belfast Boat Club yesterday.
Hundreds of youngsters will flock to the Stranmillis venue for the showpiece scheduled from Saturday July 26 to Saturday August 2.
Once again the showpiece has been afforded Grade One status by Tennis Ireland, the sport’s governing body, meaning that national ranking points will be up for grabs for entrants from all over the country.
Over the years the event has attracted competitiors from all over Europe and further afield and it is hoped that this year will be no different.
It has become the most prestigious tournament on the local junior tennis calendar but there will be much more on offer than just competitive action over the course of the week.
Tournament Director Chris Sanlon will be heading up a team of helpers to ensure that everything runs smoothly on and off the courts.
“Whilst the event is important in itself as far as the tennis is concerned the aim will be to keep the kids entertained after they have played their games,” said Chris at yesterday’s launch.
“We will have a host of activities to keep the kids amused - for example there will be pool tables, table tennis, football and unihockey and mini-tennis to name just a few of the side shows.
“We will also be having a treasure hunt and a ‘match-of-the-day’ video which is always popular with the kids.
“Quite often parents leave their children off early in the morning and they don’t leave the club for several hours because there is so much to do.
“We have appointed Ross McCarey as Entertainment Director and the assistant referees, Alex Fowler, Carlos Miranda, Katie Morris, Lynsey McCullough will all be helping out on and off the court.
“It is quite a big operation but the tournament is something we all look forward to every year and this one is no different.
“We view it as a complete package and it is by no means restricted to merely playing tennis although that is, of course, integral to the tournament.
“But it is not just aimed at elite players who want to secure Ulster and Irish ranking points as there is something for everyone we like to think.
“While the main events start on the Saturday there are also novice competitions that are restricted to kids who haven’t got past the second round in a tournament proper.
“On the Friday before the start of the main events we will be running an Under 10 competition which is a separate fun-based competition using different coloured balls and modified equipment.”
At the other end of the scale the tournament is a vital spring board towards competing at international level and a look at the roll of honour that adorns the wall inside the club confirms this.
Claire Curran, the last Ulster player to compete at Wimbledon, won the U18 singles title twice, in 1991 and 1995.
She famously competed in a doubles match against superstars Martina Hingis and Mary Pierce at the US Open.
Curran was a professional for five years and retired at the age of 28 with a career-high ranking of 89 and is now national women’s coach with the (English) Lawn Tennis Association.
Another well known past winner at the Ulster Junior Championship is Lynsey McCullough, who went on to lift the senior title three times at the Boat Club.
Lynsey went on to represent Ireland at the Federation Cup until injury hampered her playing career and many of her proteges from both genders will be aiming to follow in her footsteps next month as she is now heavily involved in coaching elite youngsters from the province.
On the boys side George McGill is a previous winner and he, too, went on the represent Ireland at the Davis Cup.
Delia Aston, owner of Clubworld Travel said her company was delighted to be supporting the event once again.
“We are a local business with our main branch located nearby on the Lisburn and we are very happy to be continuing our association with the Ulster Junior Open.” she enthused.
“It’s a terrific competition and tennis is a great sport for people of all ages, especially children, and we are looking forward to an exciting week at the Boat Club.
“This is the third year we have been supporting the Championship and we have been very pleased with the sponsorship opportunity so we are looking forward very much to continuing it.”
The feeling seems to be mutual as far as the tournament organizers are concerned and the cash will certainly be put to good use.
“As it is a junior tournament there is no prize money but we simply couldn’t run the event the way we like to without the financial support we receive so we are very grateful to Clubworld Travel for their backing.” Chris Sanlon added.
“We will be providing trophies for all the winners and runners up in the various events and these have already been ordered.
“We will also be using the money to hire in pool and table tennis tables and it will help subsidize the Barbeque that we will be having on finals day and it will also help to part fund the dinner which will take place immediately after the prize giving ceremony.
Entries for the tournament, which has literally something for everyone, can be made online on a dedicated website at www.ulster-junior-open.org and the closing date is Tuesday June 22.