Ulster Tennis Academy New Year Welcome & Christmas Celebrations

Welcome to the New Year and the first full year of the brand new Ulster Tennis Academy. 2016 is going to be fantastic but before I talk about a few things coming up, I'd like to reminisce slightly and let everyone know what happened over the Xmas period.  This will be a lengthy email but please do read on...

We ran several events which began with a Santa visit to the futures squad on their final training session. They also competed in a team tournament comprised of doubles matches and team games. The camaraderie and effort was excellent to observe and bodes well for the future.

Monday 21st December was a celebration lunch for the victorious U18 Interpro team combined with the super senior Ulster veterans team, as well as invited guests.  While this was going on I organised a match between the UTA and some Ulster veterans and senior players.  The Belfast Boat Club was our venue and the whole day ran very smoothly with each player getting multiple games and getting to meet new people.  The results didn't matter and there were some epic tie-breaks but it's fair to say that the oldies had their day!

Collaboration is one of the keys to success and we shall build on this going forward into 2016.  Thanks to all vets players like Tracey Carruthers,Tony Davison, George, Lauren, Willie, Suzanne, Sue, Eileen, Heather Rose and Steven Leeman for being part of this, hopefully, annual event.

The very next day on Tuesday 22nd December 33 members of the UTA alongside 8 coaches descended on the Kingspan Stadium, home of Ulster rugby for a tour of the ground and a chance to look around the recently opened Nevin Spence Centre, which serves as a museum for all things Ulster.

We learned how these players train, what food they consume, the history of our Province and got to see the incredible weights room, with the added bonus of seeing Paddy Jackson whizz around on a scooter!

Finally we ended up in the home team dressing room and, just as we thought it was over, in walked Andrew Trimble, Darren Cave, Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall. They gladly allowed themselves to be interviewed by me in an impromptu Q&A session where Andrew Trimble admitted he had played tennis as a youngster but was rubbish! All the girls agreed he is welcome to attend any one of our training sessions at any time.  The rugby stars also took time to allow our players to get autographs and photos to better remember the day.

An enormous thanks must go to the Head of Strength and Conditioning at Ulster Rugby - Jonny Davis - for setting this up and I'm quite sure Ulster rugby have acquired even more fans as a result of this inspiring day.

Wednesday 23rd December was the next day for the UTA where we organised a two-hour training session for any player competing in the National Indoors in Dublin. 11 players took advantage of this opportunity to get in more practice and this session allowed the younger members of the group to see how the older ones played, as well as hit in with them on occasion.

That same afternoon the UTA gave back by wrapping presents for shopper in Victoria Square with all donations going to the Mary Peters Trust.  The MPT has been a big supporter of tennis in Ulster and over a dozen juniors eagerly assisted in raising money.  While the wrapping skills varied widely the enthusiasm did not, and with Santa hats donned and cheery smiles the money was soon pouring in.  The best sales latter has to go to Euan and Isabella who simply asked every passerby "Would you like to like give some money to charity?"  Frankly, who could resist?

The Leeman family offered to do Xmas Eve morning and stayed on to do a four hour shift as more helpers arrived mid-morning to spread some Xmas cheer.   In total we raised more than £600 for the MPT in seven hours of collecting, and well done to everyone who volunteered to help.

After taking a couple of days off for Xmas, many players travelled to Dublin to compete in age groups ranging from U12s all the way up to the Senior Level.  Some were playing this major event for the first time, gaining valuable experience for the future, while others had loftier ambitions, wanting to become Irish champion.

Ultimately two players made it all the way to the finals and special congratulations must go to Caleb Ralston who narrowly lost out in the final of the U16 boys 7-6, 6-3.  He made a great run in the tournament and showed great maturity and calmness under pressure to come through some very close earlier rounds.

Massive praise however goes to Karola Bejenaru who won the senior title without dropping a single set!  Karola has been Ulster's number one player for several years now and at only 18 years of age is world ranked just inside the Top 1000 on the women's pro tour.  All of us want to see her continued rise up the rankings as she breaks new ground every week, as this is the highest singles ranking an Ulster player has ever had.

That just about sums up a very busy couple of weeks in December and now we move on to training once more.

The days and times are the same as last term and as coaches we look forward to seeing you all training hard and learn to compete even better.

During all our sessions we will expect 100% effort and this includes mental effort also.  Displays of bad temper or poor sportsmanship will not be tolerated and could lead to a player being given a 10 minute time-out to cool down.  We are all here to improve and must make sure that our behaviour does not adversely affect the other team members.

With that said I wish to end on a positive note and would ask you to read this post from James McGee (Ireland's number 1 male singles player) as he reports on a second round match in his first Challenger tournament of the year:

"What a serious battle I had today with my doubles partner this week, Blaz Rola.  Just a few mins short of three hours. Great fight from both of us and I got lucky to come through at the end after going down 5-3 in the third.  So important to never give up, no matter how bad it feels. #neversaydie #hustle"

His reward for this win is a quarter final against the number one seed and world top 50 player, Adrian Mannarino.

So whether it is your ambition to become Ireland's best ever player or simply to make an Ulster Interpro team, the hard work begins again and the journey continues now.

If you have any questions or queries please give me a call at any time.

To view photos of all the events click here

Stuart McQuitty
Head of Operations
Ulster Tennis Academy
07788 972577