New provincial team program aims to help players succeed at the national level.

Tennis Manitoba’s provincial program has come a long way from where it was a couple years ago.

The provincial team held tryouts in September at the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club with 31 kids between the ages 10-17 showing up with their racquets trying to impress the coaches to crack the squad.

“I’ve been with Tennis Manitoba for six years and this is the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve had a legit try out for the provincial team,” said Tennis Manitoba Executive Director, Mark Arndt. “Before, we’d barely get enough kids to have a team.”

Provincial team head coach Jared Connell believes having a try out pushes athletes to take their games to the next level.

“The kids need to feel the pressure of others wanting to step in and replace them should they fail to meet criteria or perform,” said Connell. “For a high-performance environment, you really need the numbers to create that pressure.”

The program consists of an A, B, and C team with roughly eight players at each level. The A and B teams are on-court three days per week with two days of fitness training while the C team is on-court once per week with one day of fitness training.

The 20-week program, which uses both the Taylor Tennis Club and the Winnipeg Winter Club, aims to prepare local talent for major events such as the Canada Games and the Western Canada Games — which take place in 2019 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Arndt believes one of the big reasons for the improved turnout is due to some of the big-name players that have come out of Canada recently. For years, outside of Daniel Nestor, there weren’t many Canadians making names for themselves in professional tennis, but in the past few years, several players have put the country on the map.

“Canada’s recent success in tennis has helped a lot,” said Arndt. “There’s Dennis Shapovalov, Felix Auger Aliassime, Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard and now they’re always on TV and these tournaments are getting more coverage here because of all the Canadian talent and kids are watching.”

Arndt and Connell are hoping that this new edition of the provincial team could one day lead to a Manitoban’s name being mentioned alongside the likes of Raonic and Bouchard.

“Our goals are to increase the number of Manitoba players qualifying and competing at the Junior National Championships and to improve those players results at the National Level,” Connell said.

“In the short term, we are working at changing the culture within our current junior players and families by moving their focus beyond the tennis played in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We want to expose these players and their families to the larger and more competitive world of tennis beyond the Prairies.”