By LIAM DURKINTHE AGL Loy Yang Traralgon Junior International commences today. More than 160 of the world’s best junior tennis players will take part in the week-long tournament, in what will act as a lead-in to the Australian Open Juniors. For those unaware, the Traralgon Junior International is a world recognised event, and few if any regional towns across the country could lay claim to hosting a tennis event that rivals its standing. Some big names in the tennis world first came to prominence by winning the tournament, none more so than 20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer, who won as a shy-eyed 17-year-old in 1998. While the region is sure to dine out on that story for generations to come, the Traralgon Junior International has also seen a number of players go on to bigger and better things in recent years. Canadian Leylah Fernandez was a finalist at Traralgon in 2019, and two years later was a finalist at the US Open. German Alexander Zverev won the event in 2014 and has since gone on to play in the final of the US Open (in 2020), and the semis of the Australian and French Opens (2020 and 2021 respectively). Traralgon Tennis Association manager Susie Grumley said the event was a huge feather in the cap for the Latrobe Valley. “Players here this week are the future champions, future grand slam champions, the players that you’ll be watching on the tele and winning grand slams as time goes on,” she said. “The Australian Open Juniors is the first grand slam of the year and first grand slam for the juniors, and this being a lead-in event you will get the best juniors in the world come here to play to get valuable match practise before they go into the Australian Open.” There has been virtually no time to rest for the Traralgon Tennis Association, which only finished hosting duties for the ATP Challenger and ITF Women’s World Tour on Sunday. Volunteers have spent the last few days putting the finishing touches on the Traralgon Tennis Complex in readiness for the Junior International. “We’ve had a quick change of some signage and doing a few different things that need to be done to prepare for the junior event … we are all there ready to go. It is just great to have the event back again, it wasn’t held last year due to COVID,” Grumley told The Express. “To get everyone back again and get the atmosphere around the club has been fantastic, there is a real positive vibe around and the community are really getting behind our events and coming down to watch, so you really enjoy volunteering and being part of it … it is wonderful. “We couldn’t run these events without our volunteers, they’re definitely the backbone of the club and we couldn’t continue to do this without the enormous help we get from our volunteers – catering coordinators, bus driver volunteers, people who will just come down and help with anything, the parents, kids often come down and help. “We are just very lucky to have so much support, it definitely is a very big team effort and this year it has turned into a community effort.” In keeping with the country spirit of Gippsland, winners of the Traralgon Junior International receive an Akubra hat. The hats have become a trademark of the event, and like most traditions, have just stuck since first being introduced. “We’ve always given the Akubra hats,” Grumley explained. “It was something that was done right at the start. They get a perpetual trophy for winning the championships and we just decided we would add something in ourselves as well. “Right from the very first tournament we decided that an Akubra hat was a really good Australian memento and something different, so they have just always been given to the winners. “They love them, they put them on straight away, it is just a nice little touch that we do.” Who knows, perhaps even Roger Federer still has his Akubra from Traralgon. The AGL Loy Yang Traralgon Junior International and Australian Open Junior Qualifying rounds will be played until Thursday, January 20.