Academy looks to put Manitoba on the tennis map

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The sound of tennis balls popping off rackets reverberated through the balmy River Heights air Tuesday afternoon.

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The sound of tennis balls popping off rackets reverberated through the balmy River Heights air Tuesday afternoon.

It was day filled with intense training. Now, 16 of Winnipeg’s top junior tennis players were capping their first session in the Taylor Tennis Summer Academy with some friendly matches.

The academy, hosted by Taylor Tennis Club, celebrated its inaugural training period on Tuesday.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Magnus Gnilor returns a serve at Taylor Tennis Club on Tuesday. Gnilo is a top-ranked under-18 tennis player in Manitoba.

The academy will welcome high-performance players, ages 10-17, from across the city three times a week for the next six weeks, with the vision of offering something that has been missing in the athletes’ lives.

“We believe there hasn’t been a strong pathway for parents and juniors to navigate their way through tennis in this province for some time,” said Nancy Chappell-Pollack, co-owner of Taylor Tennis Club.

“We felt this was a strong opportunity to create a direction for families and juniors to go once they decide they enjoy tennis and decide they want to keep playing.”

Chappell-Pollack, along with her husband, Hart, and two other business partners, took over the Southwest club on June 15. Now the foursome wants to help grow Manitoba’s mark on tennis in the country.

“We think (Manitoba) has been underrepresented in general across Canada in tennis and we think there’s just so much potential there,” she said. “There are so many devoted families and good athletes in this province.”

The program helps young players hone their technical abilities in the sport, improve their strength and conditioning and compete against the best the province has to offer in their age range.

Jared Connell, coach for Tennis Manitoba and head coach at Taylor Tennis Club, expressed his excitement for the timeliness of the program, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the opportunity for young players to develop.

“Through the pandemic, players have been forced to find their own means of training privately without playing any matches,” he said.

“It’s best for the families because they’re not having to try and run all over the place. That loses so much time. It’s a bit of a culture shift because of that, like we’re trying to create good standards for these kids.”

The young players have the advantage of training at an impressive facility. Taylor Tennis Club is one of two tennis clubs in Winnipeg with indoor courts, and its outdoor courts are a clay surface — the only ones of its kind on the prairies.

A disadvantage the academy is trying to overcome, however, is the lack of competition in Manitoba.

Players who play primarily against their coaches in practice due to few tournaments or available partners in the province may not be maximizing their potential. It can lead to a rude wakeup call when the players travel to national competitions to compete against players from bigger provinces.

“Playing matches is really the biggest thing when it comes to developing toughness and solving problems. When they’re with a coach (one on one), it’s really safe. They don’t have that pressure. There’s not that pecking order and that’s what you need in these academies.”

At the top of Taylor Tennis Summer Academy’s pecking order is Magnus Gnilo, who Connell has been working with for four years through Tennis Manitoba and at Taylor Tennis Club.

The 17-year-old is the top-ranked under-18 player in the province — 101 in the country for his age — and for Connell’s money, may be the second-best player in Manitoba, regardless of age. He’s played at nationals twice, will compete at the Canada Summer Games this year and held a 110 km/hour serve at 14 years old.

Gnilo and his family moved to Winnipeg from the Philippines in 2017. The eastern-Asia country is where he fell in love with tennis at a young age.

He remembered swimming from a young age but had to look for a different sport when he was nine years old while his pool was being worked on. He decided to tag along with his dad to a local tennis club he went to each morning. The young player was immediately hooked.

“I made a lot of friends with tennis. In the Philippines, I always played with maybe 30 kids, a lot of friends, he said. “That’s why I fell in love with it. It’s a sense of belonging.”

Gnilo didn’t hold back his excitement when talking about the new academy he’ll be going to all summer.

“This is a new thing. We’ve never had an academy where we did fitness, where we did match plays. It’s just a new, exciting, big thing, you know?”

He said his skill level “100 per cent took a dip” during the pandemic and that it was tough to maintain motivation throughout the two-plus years. He is focused on getting comfortable again before the Canada Summer Games.

While Gnilo said he’s been told by several coaches that collegiate tennis could be an option for him, which he would take if presented to him, his family has preached balance in the meantime and to take his studies seriously.

He plans to pursue a career in electrical engineering whether he’s playing tennis at the next level or not.

Chappell-Pollock said Taylor Tennis Club will be launching its fall and winter version of the Taylor Tennis Tennis Academy later this year, which will be inclusive to players of all ages and skill levels.

jfreysam@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jfreysam

History

Updated on Tuesday, July 5, 2022 10:27 PM CDT: Changes Taylor Tennis to Taylor Tennis Club

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