Tennis Europe Junior Tour | 16/14/12 & Under
Created in 1990, the Tennis Europe Junior Tour has long been the platform of choice for the launch of a successful career, and in recent years has heralded the arrival of such top players as Justine Henin, Roger Federer, Caroline Wozniacki, Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Maria Sharapova, to name but a few.
The tour is divided into three age groups; under-16s, under-14s and (since 2000) under-12s. In 2009, these three categories combined for a total of some 300+ tournaments, staged across 43 of the 49 member nations of Tennis Europe. The exponential growth of the tour - which last year saw participation from around 10,000 players - represents an astonishing diversification of its original 43 tournaments over two age groups.
In many ways a dress rehearsal for life on the professional circuit, the Tennis Europe Junior Tour also boasts a cumulative weekly ranking, 'Player of the Year' awards (former recipients include Rafael Nadal and Kim Clijsters), and a season-ending Masters tournament for the top eight performers in each category. As with professional tennis, an anti-doping program has been introduced in cooperation with the ITF in order to educate players about the dangers of doping, and like their professional counterparts, Tour players use an IPIN (International Player Identification Number) to manage their entries and withdrawals online.
The appeal of the Tennis Europe Junior Tour extends well beyond its home continent, and in 2009 players came from almost 100 countries worldwide to participate. Guillermo Coria is one non-European to have excelled, ending the year as a top ten player twice, once as an U-14 and once U-16. Other players such as Andy Roddick, Juan Martín Del Potro and Sania Mirza also got a first taste of European competition on the tour.
16/14 & Under Tour events are played at three levels, ranging from the elite Category 1 events, which attract the strongest draws, to the more numerous and accessible Category 2 and 3 events. Boys and girls events in both singles and doubles events are held at all tournaments, with some offering additional consolation tournaments for early losers. Player parties, cultural exchanges and tourist trips during events encourage all players to focus on more than just their results.
The 12 & Under Tour differs in that no rankings are produced, and there are no Masters or European individual championship events, though the summer team event, the 'Tennis Europe Nations Challenge by HEAD' is now in its fourth year and has been universally acclaimed.
Team events provide some of the highlights of the Junior Tour, with the Tennis Europe Winter Cups by HEAD and the Summer Cups providing youngsters with an early opportunity to compete for their countries, whilst the European Junior Championships title is arguably the most treasured prize of all. All three flagship events have an illustrious history, dating back to the founding of Tennis Europe in the mid-1970's.
Over a quarter of a million spectators file through the gates annually to see competitions that are reported in over 780 periodicals worldwide, garnering over 12,000 minutes of TV and radio airtime.
The quality of play on the Tennis Europe Junior Tour is such that a myriad of former world No.1s, including Graf, Seles, Sanchez-Vicario, Mauresmo, Becker, Edberg, Lendl, Safin, Moya and Wilander all displayed their talents to an international audience for the first time on the European circuit, proving that the tour really does provide an opportunity to see the stars of tomorrow today.
Above: Novak Djokovic, Gael Monfils and Robin Soderling, three of the stars of the Tennis Europe Junior Tour in 2002.