Our ACES tennis student-athletes had another brilliant experience as they took to the cultured streets of Oujda, Morocco, to compete in an International Tennis Federation (ITF) Grade 5 Junior Event. This tournament had been built into the students’ calendars at the start of the term; we set programmes for the players to ensure they have the relevant training and competition time to develop their games whilst allowing them to stay on top of their grades at school. This would not be possible without the ACES programme, as it not only allows players to travel but also gives students the resources, time and effort from the teachers to set the relevant work and check in with students whilst away, making the transition back to normal classes smooth.
After a long journey of buses, planes, taxis and vans we arrived in a quaint little town of Oujda. As well as excellent tennis throughout the trip the students had the opportunity to experience and educate themselves about a new culture and environment, adapting their eating habits to suit the local cuisine all whilst trying to prepare best for the event!
Tennis is a funny sport…
On Saturday we spent a few hours acclimatising to the new environment which involved fighting for practice courts and for practice balls – as each event uses different types of balls it was important we practised with the ‘tennis balls of the week’. After this and lots of stretching to stay on top of any little niggles and soreness from the long journey the players had to ‘sign in’ to the event. Tennis is a funny sport, as you often turn up to these events not knowing if you are going to get to play, as it depends on who else has made the trip. We thought, ‘who else is crazy enough for trains, planes and automobiles?’. Well… it seems many people are! The draw was released and Will and Nic found out their next day opponents, but Bailey received the news that he was first ‘alternate’. This means if someone is ill/injured overnight he is the next player to get into the event. We prepared as if he was going to play the following day despite the unlikely outcome of this positive thought.
The next day arrived – an early alarm to make sure we had a strong breakfast. Hard-boiled eggs (that had been boiled an hour or 2 too long!) was a good choice for the boys to get their protein in alongside some toast. This was as good as it was going to get and had to be the fuel for the morning. We turned up to the club, which at this particular time of the day was like turning up to sales on Boxing Day, with the clammer for courts and balls to get the 20 minute warm up to prepare the players’ minds and bodies for their matches.
Nic and Will both took to the court, but the echoes of the loudspeaker resembled ‘ Dawseeeenn’ being called. It had happened – someone had become ill overnight and Bailey Dawson was in to play. They kindly gave him 4 minutes to get changed and ready to go… This was only his second ever international event, so it was quite an introduction! After a slow start to the match, Bailey managed to find his feet and battled to win his match 6/3 6/1. What a great effort.
The week continued in a positive manner with the team winning 7 matches from the 12 played, learning many lessons along the way. Oujda treated us well, albeit we were offered an omelette the day we were leaving which would have been fantastic to be offered 7 days earlier… but this was a nice treat to send us on our way for the 4.5 hour drive that the team had to take to the next event in Meknes. I, on the other hand, am back in the comfort of Sotogrande to work with our Junior and Future ACES players as they look to develop their games to gain the opportunities that our Elite ACES are fortunate enough to be a part of. Life lessons that will always stay with them…