Sania helps push tennis forward
The WTA Future Stars and the Indian ace are two reasons why young girls in Asia are picking up tennis
The WTA Future Stars initiative was established in 2014 along with the first edition of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Held in Asia for the first time, the WTA Finals shone the spotlight on tennis in the region.
The WTA Future Stars was introduced, in collaboration with Sport Singapore and the Singapore Tennis Association, to leverage on this opportunity and promote the sport throughout the Asia-Pacific and produce the next generation of talent.
Countries in the region host local qualifying events and send top two representatives - one each in the Under-14 and Under-16 categories - to compete in the WTA Future Stars tournament, which is held in conjunction with the WTA Finals.
In its inaugural year, 24 players from 12 countries took part.This year, we are welcoming 48 players from 21 countries to compete in Singapore.
As part of the programme, these players are provided with valuable experiences and exclusive insight into the world of professional women's tennis.
A whole range of activities from coaching clinics to athlete development seminars are conducted to educate the young talent on various pathways available within the tennis industry.
FUTURE STARS CLINIC
On Tuesday, we were in Hyderabad, India, the hometown of former world No. 1 doubles player, Sania Mirza, for a Future Stars clinic.
The two-time WTA Finals champion's success has definitely taken root in India.
Hers is an inspirational story that will undoubtedly encourage anyone to believe that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in your dreams.
When she started playing tennis, she trained on rudimentary courts, even some made of cow dung.
Today, Sania has not only become one of the top doubles players in the world, but has also opened two academies in Hyderabad.
In Hyderabad alone, tennis academies have sprouted in the last few years, leveraging on the profile that the sport now enjoys, thanks to Sania's six Grand Slam titles in women's and mixed doubles.
While Sania may currently be the only recognisable Indian name in the WTA, her achievements would definitely have a great impact on motivating young girls, not just in India, but around the world, to take up tennis to build a career and live a better life.
In a country like India, where cricket reigns supreme, it has taken Sania monumental effort to achieve the recognition and acknowledgement that she now embraces so gracefully.
After the WTA Future Stars clinic, she urged the media to show greater support for women in sport, and not just when someone wins.
Even with the popularity of cricket, she said people took notice of the India women's team only when they made it to the World Cup final.
She hopes that the spotlight on women in sports will continue to grow, even when there is no gold medal or trophy.
She reminded us all that sometimes, the losses teach you more than the victories and, regardless of the eventual result, the effort and dedication should never be dismissed.
The performance of the Indian contingent at the WTA Future Stars shows promise for the future, with representatives winning the U-16 category in both 2014 and 2015, and a commendable runner-up spot last year.
Karman Thandi, the Under-16 WTA Future Stars champion from 2014, has gone on to compete in junior Grand Slams, and currently trains at the academy run by Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratuglou.
As we approach the fourth edition of the Future Stars tournament, we will have almost 150 players competing in Singapore.
Through the clinics and masterclasses which we have conducted in India, China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and, of course Singapore, we have reached out to 1,000 more children in the region, encouraging them to live a better life through tennis.
The efforts of our partners have also helped to grow the interest in the sport.
Sport Singapore introduced the ActiveSG Tennis Academy this year and has worked closely with the WTA to introduce the sport to the community at events such as Car-Free Sunday, while the Sports Hub has partnered with the WTA to include tennis as one of the main activities in its Community Play Day.
Another major project that has been successful is the "Tennis for Every Child" programme by SC Global, offering free coaching and equipment to primary schools here.
As I count down to the fourth year of the WTA Finals in Singapore, I believe the landscape of women's tennis has changed significantly not just here, but throughout the region.
Through the combined efforts of the WTA, our players, partners and sponsors to promote tennis, I am confident that we have started to lay a very strong foundation in the region to groom talent which we will hopefully see emerge soon.
- Melissa Pine is the vice-president of WTA Asia-Pacific and the tournament director of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. She is also a former NCAA player at Washington State University and served as assistant coach of the team post-graduation. To find out more about the WTA Finals, visit www.wtafinals.com