The Red Deer Tennis Club is proving you don’t have to be big to produce top players.
The club came away with its fair share of medals as it hosted the Junior Champs and Challenger Provincials on the weekend. It all speaks to the growth of tennis in the city.
“It’s amazing, we have more and more kids. The last time we had our Saturday program we had like 32 kids between four and eight years old sign up for lessons, it’s absolutely unbelievable,” said Red Deer head pro Rene Simon. “(Seeing them develop) is the most fun of everything, it’s why we do that. It’s nice to see kids go from nothing to really good.”
Tereza Simonova led the way with silver in U16 and U18 girls, Oscar Yang earned silver in U18 boys and bronze in U16 while tying for third in doubles, Charvher Dael earned gold in U18 boys doubles and was fourth in U18 boys, Mantoush Polakovic earned gold in U14 boys while Michael Robinson finished fourth while also earning silver in U14 boys doubles.
This means Simonova, Yang, Dael, Polakovic and Robinson will all be headed to nationals in August.
Three of them will also be apart of eight-member Team Alberta for the Western Canada Games in Wood Buffalo — Simonova, Yang and Robinson.
“I’m real excited, as soon as I heard about it I wanted to get picked,” said Yang, 14. “I know it happens every four years, so I’m just real happy that I am able to go.”
With success like this, the reputation of the club is growing, due in large part to the work of Simon and assistant club pro Tyler Bagg.
It is to the point where young tennis players are starting to come to Red Deer to play instead of staying home in Calgary and Edmonton.
Yang is one of those players, coming down from Edmonton.
“The coaches give us a lot of support and a lot of training, they work us hard and let us become better in tennis,” he said.
Just to play in this provincial championship, players had to be ranked in the top eight in the province.
Getting through to the medal round was a grind with most players in that position playing upwards of 10 matches over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday tournament.
Some, like Simonova, just ran out of gas on Sunday.
“She was really, really tired, she had blisters all over her feet and struggled with her shoulder, but we tried not to show it,” said Simon, her coach and father, noting she lost to arch rival Ashleigh Jacobs in both finals.
But the national championships do beckon. They are an opportunity to really jump in the Canadian junior standings while it is also a chance for the club to poke its head out on a national level.
“I’m just trying to work hard every day on my consistency and power because most of them are very good, I’ll be practicing every day, five hours a day,” said Dael, who drives up from Innisfail to train in Red Deer. “I just want to play good and try my best and not intimidate others but try and be confident.”
Most of the players heading there have been before, but without seeing much of the rest of the country during the season it is hard to know really what awaits.
“I want to get into the points and play solid tennis,” said Robinson. “I’m working on my backhand and serve.”
To be able to go to nationals as a group is something they will be able to build off.
“We train together we work hard together,” said Dael. “It will be fun to go as a group, we’ve got excellent players and excellent coaches.”
Up next for the club is an International Tennis Federation tournament in Edmonton, June 29 to July 4, and will be a rare opportunity for international competition for these players.