Thursday, 12 March 2009

Latest Off The Production Line

Indian Wells tennis at the mo, and spent a little time yesterday following a tight game between the 18 year Ursula Radwanska and the 16 year old Michelle Larcher De Brito. Young, uncomplicated, naive talent, a la Wayne Rooney at 16? Don't you believe it.

A quick look at Miss De Brito's WTA profile gives a few clues - the model pose photoshot, and a residence in Bradenton, Florida. This is the home of the IMG Nick Bolletieri Tennis Academy (NBTA), and the young lady is the latest high-profile graduate introduced to the WTA tour.

The Academy has an excellent reputation for producing successful players, with current star graduates Maria Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic, and a history including Agassi, Sampras, Hingis, Mary Pierce and more. There is a regular conveyor belt of wealthy Europeans happy to send their children to Florida with a dream of superstardom. I have no details of the fees involved, or the success rate, but I'm sure there are plenty of dads who've spent a large six figure sum and never seen their child make even a challenger tour event.

But enrollment certainly improves the odds of success. A quick look through the top 100's shows a stream of young talent - Nishikori, Mathieu, Hantuchova, Lisicki, Vaidisova, Azarenka, Golovin.

The latter has had an injury hit couple of years, and the history of both Sharapova and Jankovic show plenty of injury issues. And here may be the down side of the NBTA system. The player's talent ( and P.R. profile ) is groomed early, and players are introduced to the tour when their skills are ready, rather then when they are physically mature. But the history of talented teens is that many are injury-hit in later years. So keep an eye on Larcher De Brito's upcoming progress, but don't pin your hopes on her being around in ten years time.

If you want an example of how a young talent can be nurtured and controlled to avoid an early burn-out, and allowed the grow without too much media pressure, look closer to home. The teacher - Sir Alex, the pupil - Ryan Giggs.

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