A new Tennis Canada elite youth national training program based out of the North Shore Winter Club opened this fall with the goal of producing the next wave of Rebecca Marinos and Vasek Pospisils to take on the world.
The program is run by Oded Jacob, a highly respected coach who moved here from Israel to take the position after helping that nation produce a number of world class players. This is Tennis Canada's third National Junior Training Program following established centres in Ontario and Quebec. The program, currently focused on the under-10 through under-14 levels, is aimed squarely at the province's elite youth talent.
"I feel my mission is to create a world class training environment for these players where they feel the competitive intensity day in and day out and to enable them to have as much experience and exposure to understand what international tennis is about," Jacob told the North Shore News last week.
The program began in October with six hand-picked players, including Sara Bremsak and Stacey Fung of North Vancouver, and has now expanded to around 20 young talents picked by Jacob in consultation with clubs and instructors from around the province. The work done at the Winter Club supplements the training that the players receive with their own clubs and coaches, said Jacob.
The province's young players are certainly in good hands, said Tennis B.C. CEO Ryan Clark. Jacob coached Israel's Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams and worked with elite talents like Shahar Peer and Dudi Sela while acting as director of the Israeli National Tennis Centre.
"We had binders full of resumés come in from all over the world from people who wanted to work here as the national coach," said Clark. "We did our research and everybody said this is one of the best guys in the world you could possibly get."
Jacob said he applied for the position hoping to get a chance to live in Canada and work with keen young players.
"I think Canada is a great country with a lot of focus on sports and Tennis Canada right now is a very healthy organization which is looking to expand high performance," he said. "I was looking into taking a new challenge, especially with the young generation in order to follow up on development, not just professional players. Working with the young is very rewarding, you see the growth right in front of you every day."
Jacob said the program, which will see athletes come to the Winter Club one or two times a week, will focus on areas such individualized work, scientific support, medical advice and fitness training in association with partners such as Level 10 Fitness and SportMedBC.
At some point the program might move to a facility of its own but for now the Winter Club, with great amenities already in place and abundant court time available, is an excellent home, said Clark, adding that the program is still in its infancy but there are high hopes in the B.C. tennis community.
"(Jacob's) job is not to create a bunch of good players that go to nationals and do well, his job is to create not even just national champions but international champions," he said. "That's what he's going for. You don't go out and get a guy of his talent level for the goal of anything less than that."
Tennis is hot in B.C. right now with Vancouverites Marino and Pospisil scoring top-level wins and North Vancouver's own Philip Bester coming up with a huge victory for Canada in Davis Cup play this summer. In February Vancouver will host Canada's return to the Davis Cup's top-level World Group against France at UBC.
"It's very unique timing, especially when Davis Cup is coming out here and you have Vasek Pospisil as a role model out here, Rebecca Marino," said Jacob. "It's very special timing and also an indication from Tennis Canada that they believe in this region."
Hopes are high now but Jacob said the province is still a long ways away from the traditional tennis powerhouses of Europe and South America.
"It's basically a very virgin, very raw place as far as high performance and I think we can really push forward," said Jacob. "Hopefully this will help (young B.C. players) excel into new Pospisils and Marinos."