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At the Tunisian Tennis Club (TCT), Zeineb, Mariem, Rahma and Amira exchange balls as a warm-up, under the watchful eye of technical director Assia Halo, a former Algerian champion. These young girls aged 10 to 17 embody the hopes of the club in the Alain-Savary neighborhood, one of the best in Tunisia. “We work with technique, of course, but also with the mind. “They are young, they need to gain self-confidence.” insists the coach.
Amira, 16, started the sport at the age of 6, pushed by her parents. She admired Russian player Maria Sharapova, then became a fan of Ons Jabeur: The 27-year-old Tunisian, sixth in the world rankings, walked many times on TCT clay courts, especially during the Nana trophy, an international. women’s tennis tournament. “Her photos, her style of play, her humor, I like everything about her.” lists, dreamy, Amira. On his side, Zaynab, Mariem and Rahma agree.
For the past five years, the champion’s dazzling career has thrilled Tunisia. What is the significance of his elimination in the first round of Roland-Garos on Sunday 22 May? The first Arab player to win a WTA tournament with a victory in Madrid on May 7, she was called the “minister of joy” by her supporters in a country where a grim political and economic climate prevails.
Nearly 30,000 licensed
“In a few years, when we only talked about football in cafes, tennis has entered the conversation. thank you Ons », testifies Haythem Abidi, coach at Gazelec Sport in Tunisia. It is in this club that Feryel Ben Hassen, 17, coaches, who seems to be one of the most serious runners-up of Ons Jabeur, with a good ranking among juniors at the world level. she says to herself “Very motivated by Ons’s example, his mental strength and his perseverance.” At TCT, 23-year-old Chiraz Bechri is also strong, despite injuries that have slowed a promising start to his career. “Ons is an inspiration to her: she too suffered injuries and severe blows and was able to get up again.” comments his coach, Chokri Ben Amor.
Nabil Mlika, former Ons Jabeur coach at Hammam Sousse (east), says he uses his former defender as a “reference” for the children you train. “When I want to explain a game technique or a gesture, as soon as I mention Ons, I have their full attention.” he jokes. At Gazelec Sport, Haythem Abidi is pleased with the multiplication of the number of players reaching a competition stage from 10 to 14 years old. “Three years ago we had lists of 30 players, today we have 128 in national tournaments”he explains.
The Tunisian Tennis Federation (FTT) confirms that the number of practitioners has tripled in recent years. The country has about 30,000 licensees and about fifty clubs, compared to 30 five years ago. This moment was promoted by the president of FTT, Salma Mouelhi Guizani, in office since 2013. The former player imposed equality in terms of federation and at club level. “I wanted to democratize and feminize this sport.” confirms what has also strengthened national tournaments – nearly 35 a year – to allow players to enter professional circles.
A WTA tour in Bitola
Today, the number of women and men is balanced, whereas twenty years ago, tennis was a fairly masculine sport in Tunisia. “I remember we trained a lot with the boys because they were not enough.” explains Mounira Bey, trainer for young girls in Djerba (southeast). Nabil Mlika also recalls playing Ons Jabeur in the men’s tournaments: “At 11, she was already beating up girls older than her.” he says.
The challenge for the federation now is to improve the infrastructure, as the country has neither internal fields nor grassy areas. “Today the dynamics must win over the state for sport at a competitive level to be a priority for the development of our youth.” insists Salma Mouelhi Guizani. Because without the support of the authorities, the back of the decor for the champion seeds is not very pink. “We have a lot of potential, but the difficulty remains to find sponsors.” reports Slim Abassi, the head coach of the new TCT players. Ons Jabeur also suffered from it in its infancy. Today, posters with his image of a Tunisian telecommunications operator are visible throughout the territory.
Assia Halo hopes the tennis fame will attract new sponsors for young talent. “Once the players grow, you have to move on to another stage, to have a private coach, a physical coach, etc. It costs about 5000 dinars per month [plus de 1 500 euros], which is very difficult to assume for a Tunisian family. “ she explains. In Hammam Sousse, Nabil Mlika remains safe: “In recent years we have had many parents registering their children and companies are interested in the issue of sponsorship, whereas it was not like that three or four years ago. »
The Ons Jabeur effect continues to be imitated. Given its success, the FTT was able to secure a WTA tournament in Monastir in October.