2018 : Tennis's got talent

Jun 15, 2023, 11:15:49 AM

2018 : Tennis's got talent

Behind the scenes of Team BNP Paribas Young Talents

Gabriel Debru grows fast. He won the 2022 French Open Boys’ singles tournament at the age of 16, and he is already taller than most of his Challenger opponents –he wears “a size 12.5 and is 6ft 4in.” The reason why he has grown up so fast is because he was not alone. Indeed, he joined Team BNP Paribas Young Talents three years before his Junior French Open title. This program was launched in 2018 as an alternative to traditional sports sponsoring; it brings financial, sporting, and logistical support to young tennis talents. “We consulted athletes and coaches, and soon realised that training the next generation of champions was as important as super expensive. Hence the Young Talents project. Our motto is that no youngster who has the potential to turn pro should give up for financial reasons”, says BNP Paribas global head of partnerships, events, and sponsoring Vincent-Baptiste Closon.

35 boys and girls aged 12 to 18 – including three or four wheelchair tennis players– received aid from the project so they could play tennis while going to school and enjoying a normal family life. Jenny Lim is one of them. She won her first ITF tournament aged 17 last year. “I joined Team BNP Paribas Young Talents in 2019. I had just recovered from a knee and wrist injury. They came to see me play in the French championship, which I won. I started tennis by chance, you know. My parents were born in Cambodia. They fled the Khmer Rouge regime and went to Vietnam, then Paris. The Young Talents funds have made a huge difference. I could play many more tournaments.”

3,700 miles away from France, Izyan Ahmad, aka ‘Zizou’, joined Team BNP Paribas Mac 1, the American branch of the program supervised by John and Patrick McEnroe, last year. Though this wonderkid was nicknamed Zizou due to his football skills, he wants to become a professional tennis player. He is the best US player in his age category in both singles and doubles; this Roger Federer fan could not have gone any further without BNP ParibasJeunes Talents. “Tennis is just too expensive for a teenager who reaches a high level of performance,” says his father Farooq. “It involves travelling everywhere across the country, even the world, to play in tournaments.” 12-year-old Zizou might have to play ITF competitions and Junior Grand Slam tournaments soon indeed, and these costs cannot be reduced. “Plus, you must pay for tennis practices and personal fitness training. My wife and I were really worried about that. Each time he played in a tournament, we had to rent a car and a house, and pay for laundry services, rackets, strings, etc. It is too much. I think he would have had to give up on his dream without this program.”

The program has also been implemented in Belgium, Poland, and Italy, and does not only provide financial support. It also offers English classes , specific seminars , media training sessions, as well as advice on nutrition, public image, doping, gambling, etc. In other words, it helps you in every aspect a  professional player should control. It has helped Zizou improve on the psychological aspect. “They taught him how to visualise what would happen before starting a tournament,” says Farooq. “How to grasp and handle the pressure before entering the court, then during the match. He loved that; he had never really delved into that before.” Through these sessions, these tennis wonderkids grow together and help each other. “Joining the Team meant meeting new players,” says Jenny Lim. “I was impressed when I met Diane Parry for instance. It is a great opportunity to play and improve with her.” 

Diane Parry, aged only 20, is a Team Young Talents member; she is getting bigger every year as a pro player. Parr y made it to the WTA Top 100 in March 2022 and beat holder Barbora Krejcikova in the 2022 French Open first round. Vincent-Baptiste Closon adds: “Other Team BNP Paribasplayers are doing pretty well too, like ATP No. 91 Luca Van Assche, and WTA No. 162 Elsa Jacquemot. But our top priority is to stick to our initial mission, i.e., helping kids who couldn’t have turned pro without the program go through with their dreams.” Zizou is one of them. He wants to make his dreams come true. “He keeps a diary with his dreams,” says Farooq. “He wants to win Wimbledon, like Federer, and the US Open because it is played at home. He just wants to be World No. 1 some day.”