Paige Grice, Thomas Friesen and Justin Friesen rallied in the blistering heat, thumping forehands and slicing backhands at the Kamloops Tennis Centre on Monday afternoon.
Few days remain for practise before the most notable matches to this point of their careers, with an International Tennis Federation World Tennis Tour Junior Circuit event set to touch down on Saturday on home court in the Tournament Capital.
“It’s the best tennis we’re going to have here, probably ever,” said KTC tennis director Kelly Hubbard, who coaches the local trio.
The under-18 tournament will feature players from across the world, with Mexico, India, the U.S., Chile and China among countries expected to be represented in boys’ and girls’ singles and doubles draws.
Action will run through next Saturday.
ITF ranks its junior categories one through five. Grade 1 is the top level. The Kamloops event is a Grade 5 tournament, but is expected to attract Grade 4/5-calibre players.
Luka Vukovic of North Vancouver is the seventh-ranked U18 player in Canada and 369th-ranked U18 player in the world.
Leena Bennetto of Vernon is ranked 10th among U16 Canadian girls and 605th in the world among U18 girls. Both will play at the Kamloops event.
“This is the highest level in B.C.,” Hubbard said, noting Bennetto trains in Kamloops.
“They only allocate so many ITFs per year to each country. One had to be given up in Canada for us to receive one. We were lucky to get it.”
Justin, a Grade 11 student at South Kamloops secondary, and Paige, who is in Grade 10 at NorKam, are entered in the main draw. Thomas, two grades behind his elder brother Justin at South Kam, must win two qualifying matches to reach the main draw.
Schedules will be released online at itftennis.com/juniors, with the qualifying round slate expected to be available on Friday and the main draw lineup to follow on Sunday.
“This is my first ITF, so yes, this is the biggest tournament I’ve ever played,” said big-serving Justin, who has been coached by Hubbard for about six years.
“You just need to tell yourself to play to win. Don’t play to not lose. Go for your shots and hope for the best.”
Paige enjoys watching 19-year-old Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu, who turned pro in 2017 after toiling on the ITF Junior Circuit.
“It’ll be a good experience to play players from all over the world,” said Paige, who plans to use her strong forehand from the baseline.
Thomas looks up to his older brother on the court and will have his support during an opening-round qualifying match, with friends and family expected to be in attendance.
“I’m really nervous about it,” Thomas said. “I’m not sure why. I feel like I should be more excited.
“I’m more of an aggressive player. I like being on the offence, finishing points quick and making my way to the net.”
Finding quality opponents usually means travelling for the KTC’s top juniors. Next week, the world is coming to them.
“If you want to come down and take a look, top-quality competitors are going to be here,” Hubbard said, noting the event is under contract to be held in Kamloops through 2021.