Samoa’s tennis players and fans have a busy week ahead.
Yesterday, the 19th edition of the Oceania Closed Junior Championship (O.C.J.C.) was officially opened with a speech by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi in front of the government building.
“I recall opening this same tournament back in August 2013 when Samoa last hosted. Many of you who were 10 and 12 years old back then are here again, but as seasoned campaigners of the East Pacific’s Junior tennis elite,” said the Prime Minister to the numerous participants of this year’s tournament.
The participants from Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti include young players from the age of 12 and under up to the age of 16.
Until Friday, the young tennis fanatics will compete at the courts of Apia Park, with the winners of the tournament being selected to hopefully continue their success on the tennis courts in Fiji.
“In the East Pacific Qualifying Regional Tennis Championships, the players have the chance to qualify for the P.O.J.C. (Pacific Oceania Junior Championships) starting next week in Fiji. Through all of these tournaments which are being held, there’s always the idea of identifying those players who are ready to represent their countries at a higher level of playing”, explained the tourney’s referee, Sachin Ruddy from Fiji.
But before this process of selecting the best players of the South Pacific region even started, the event had to be opened.
This was done with a solemn parade, marching from Apia’s police station up to the Samoa’s government building, with the police marching band leading the way. All of the players and their coaches seemed proud to represent their country during the sports event.
The longest journey to take part in the tournament certainly had to be overcome by the team from Tahiti.
Despite the long journey, the squad did not come unprepared to Samoa. In fact, their preparations even led them much further away than one might expect, as head coach Anne Cirqui Leissner was able to tell the Samoa Observer.
“We’ve been preparing for a few months now. We had tennis tours here in the Pacific region but also to France. Eight of our nine players are taking part in the qualifications here in Samoa”.
As for the players from Tahiti, the anticipation for the tournament’s start could not be any bigger.
“I am really looking forward to play here in Samoa”, said Lo Hirinaki. The 13-year old has been enjoying the action on the tennis court for seven years now, which could have been a reason why he did not feel nervous at all to pick up the racket at an international tournament for the first time.
“I feel good and there’s no stress, I really want to see how well the other nations play,” the young player stated.
The other nations indeed were no less thrilled to kick off the tournament, with the Samoan team having the biggest squad of the competition.
“We have 23 participants for the tournament and now we will see how our preparations are going to work out,” the team’s Head Coach, Joseph Meredith said.
The team, that is hosting the tournament along with the support of the International Tennis Federation of the East Pacific, can look back to a lot of experience in organising the regional tennis event.
“In the beginning years, it was a bit hard for us, but now, we have a good team and committee, which makes my job much easier,” explained the Tourney’s Coordinator and Samoa’s Assistant Coach Yvonne Carruthers.
As for the local players, the tournament has become some sort of a routine over the years but nonetheless, this does by no means reduce the amount of excitement that goes along with the event.
“It’s a competition, so it’s still exciting for everyone”, said Penina Kamu of the Samoan team, who despite of being only 11 years old, can already be described as one of the tourney’s experienced players, since the young tennis player will participate for the third time in the competition this year.
But of course there were also players who will chase the tennis ball for the first time internationally. One of them is 9-year old Darien Thompson, who will represent American Samoa on the tennis court at Apia Park during the next week.
“It’s my first time in the tournament, but I’ve already been to Samoa with my mom before. I feel happy to play in the tournament, because tennis is really fun to me”, she was able to tell.
No matter what the outcome will be for each and every one of the players in the tournament as the old saying goes: It is the taking part that counts.
That is also what Samoa’s Prime Minister was telling the up-and-coming tennis players of the South Pacific region.
“You are out on the tennis court on your own with all the expectations upon your “still” developing shoulders to win. That is why I say you are all already junior tennis champions”, he said in his opening speech, shortly before he hit the traditional “first ball”, which officially declared the tournament as open.