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Smashing time for budding tennis champs

Tennis day for children

(Keystone)

Geneva has been hosting a weekend of tennis action, with the likes of Swiss men's number one, Marc Rosset, and French star Cédric Pioline taking part. But their opponents were not fellow professionals. They were local children.

The "Tennis in the Heart of the City" scheme is the brainchild of Arnaud Boetsch, the former French number one and a resident of Geneva.

"Tennis is far too exclusive, and we want to get more children playing from an earlier age. We have to compete with football and basketball," Boetsch told swissinfo.

The organisers installed seven mini-tennis courts on Geneva's Plaine de Plainpalais park, invited along a host of cartoon characters and organised a variety of games. The turnout - estimated at around 3,000 children - was far higher than expected.

One of the attractions was the chance to play with and ask questions of so many well-known players - many of whom live in Geneva.

"We've got the infrastructure and the people to do this, but obviously, we wouldn't be able to get the interest of the general public without the presence of one of two big names," says Jean-René Barman, head of the association of Geneva Tennis Clubs, which organised the event.

"We're really lucky to have someone like Arnaud Boetsch in Geneva. He's been the real catalyst. It's no trouble for him to call Marc Rosset, Guy Forget or Cédric Pioline. All he has to do is pick up the phone, and they're there. That would be impossible for us, as these people are in great demand. So we intend to make the most of all these players who live in Geneva," Barman told swissinfo.

Barman says that one of the problems with tennis is that many children do not take it up until they are eight or nine, whereas they may have been playing football since they were three or four. And that's where mini-tennis comes in. It is played on courts that are much smaller than a full-size court and the children use smaller, lighter rackets.

"For us, it's very important that tennis makes an impact with children at the same time that they get interested in other sports," says Barman. "With mini-tennis, we have the opportunity to make an impression from the age of four, as with football and other sports."

The aim of the weekend was to get children playing tennis for fun. It may be a long way from the Roland-Garros or Wimbledon, but does Jean-René Barman think the event will unearth a future Hingis or Rosset? "That's not our main aim. The objective is to get as many children as possible interested in tennis. And if from all these thousands a future champion emerges, then of course, we'll be happy."

by Roy Probert

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