Written by: Christopher Simnett
***Chris grew up playing tennis in B.C. and was ranked as high as No. 2 provincially in the U12 and U16 divisions. He played in two junior national championships in the 80s. Now 39 years old, he is the “community champion” for the Tennis Canada Building Tennis Communities strategy in Airdrie, AB, where he lives with his wife and eight-year-old son. Chris spent 15 years as a journalist writing about sports for newspapers in B.C. and Alberta. He now works in public relations in Calgary. To learn more about Chris and his blog, please visit www.alltennis.ca***
Alberta is a province on the rise in junior tennis. The Alberta Under-16 team of Akhil Mehta, Jimmy Le, Vuk Radovic, Alex Berdnikoff, Harrison Scott, Jena Cheng, Mikeala Bennent, Kelsi Olliphant, Demi Henschel and Ally Miller is arguably the strongest the province has ever sent to a national championships.
The U16 nationals begin March 26 at the Nun’s Island Club in Montreal and the goal for Alberta coach Carson Bell is nothing less than a title.
Cheng is the best bet to bring the hardware back to Alberta as the Edmonton native is undefeated in all competitions this indoor season, including women’s Open events. Mehta, also an Edmontonian, has played inspired tennis this winter and combines a bullet serve and punishing forehand with a match and court awareness not seen in too many 16-year-old players.
On the boys’ side, Calgary’s Jimmy Le posted some impressive wins this winter, while Vuk Radovic has consistently been at the top of the rankings. Alex Berdnikoff has improved a ton since Christmas while Harrison Scott brings his experience as last year’s top-ranked U14 player in the province into his new age group. As for the girls, Bennett, Oliphant, Henschel and Miller have pushed the dominant Cheng hard at times this winter, and a breakthrough at nationals is not out of the question.
“The goal for the team is to bring home a national title and hopefully win the team event on the weekend (Sat. Mar. 26 and Sun. Mar 27),” says Bell, who coaches out of Edmonton’s Saville Centre. “Some challenges they face will come from strong opposition from Ontario, Quebec and possibly B.C. Part of it will be their ability to believe that they can win every match they are in and bringing that confidence to the court. This is one of the strongest nationals squads that I have travelled with and I hope that they buy into that hype a little bit. Alberta is still viewed as an underdog province at nationals but we have some kids who are putting the work in to become good players. It’s my hope that they showcase what they can do over the week we are there competing.”