The breeding ground of champions

When you hear the names Roger Federer, Eugenie Bouchard and Nick Kyrgios mentioned it’s natural to think of tennis’ biggest tournaments and venues.

The Australian Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros.

One that probably doesn’t come to mind is the Traralgon Tennis Association.

But Federer and Bouchard are just two of the superstars to grace the association’s courts for the AGL Loy Yang Traralgon Junior International before they became household names.

In addition to Federer and Kyrgios, who won the event in 1998 and 2013, respectively, Lleyton Hewitt, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Richard Gasquet and Marion Bartoli are among the stars to make the journey to Traralgon in their junior days.

This year’s edition of the annual International Tennis Federation group one tournament will again give Gippsland tennis fans an opportunity to see the future stars of the game in action.

Chinese junior world number six Yibing Wu and junior number nine Benjamin Sigouin from Canada head up the boys’ draw, while Swiss ace Rebeka Masarova (number four) and American Taylor Johnson (number 10) lead the girls’.

The tournament kicks off with two days of qualifying rounds from Thursday, before the boys and girls’ main draws – each featuring 64 young guns – get underway on Saturday.

Proceedings will conclude with grand finals on Thursday, 19 January.

Traralgon Tennis Association secretary Susie Grumley said the event would provide spectators an opportunity to watch high-quality matches while getting a glimpse of tomorrow’s superstars.

“We’re getting these kids that are playing here are then going on and we’re seeing them in the grand slam and senior events,” Grumley said.

“So the quality of players that are coming through the tournament is amazing.

“It’s a grade one ITF event, so you can’t get any higher grading for an ITF event.”

The tournament serves as a lead-in to the Australian Open Junior Championships, with many players taking the opportunity to play in Traralgon in a bid to acclimatise themselves for the event.

“Because it’s played on the same surface as Melbourne Park (plexicushion) it is used for a lot of these kids as a lead in,” Grumley said.

She said with many players travelling from the northern hemisphere, the Traralgon Junior International provided players with a chance to make the transition from winter to the Australian summer.

This year marks the 25th time the tournament has been held and Grumley said the association expected to unveil its more than $1.2 million show court development in time for the event.

The show court features new decking to enable spectators the best possible view as they watch the action.

“The players and the support staff will love the facility and the players will love to have the chance to play on it,” Grumley said.

“It’s a chance for them to play in a bigger arena than they normally would.

“We hope it encourages more people to come down and watch the finals.

“It makes for a great atmosphere to come in and watch on a show court.”

Admission to each day of the event, including the finals, is free.

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