By Ken McCue
Every summer, with the onset of Wimbledon, rackets are unhooked from nails in cupboards across Ireland as youngsters take to the streets to play tarmac tennis.
From his back window in his terraced house in Dublin’s Markets area, Anatoly Zakirov can hear the line shouts of the boys and girls as they get to grips with a game that is very much beyond their reach if they wish to pursue a career in it.
Anatoly, who started playing tennis in his native Uzbekistan at the age of 31, identifies with the kids in the streets and maintains that if we are to develop the game here, Sport Ireland needs to plug the gap between the Dublin City Council-run Parks Tennis initiative and the city’s private clubs.
While enrolment in municipal coaching courses in the playgrounds and parks of Dublin is within reach of the average working-class family budget, membership of private clubs can cost up to €1,000 annually.
Anatoly maintains that the development of tennis in primary schools would create a culture of engagement with the game and generate a critical mass that will lead to the creation of an academy structure at regional levels.
Introduction to the game at an early stage works, as exemplified by Anatoly’s successful 11-year-long coaching programme at Westmanstown in west Co Dublin, which had many local six-year-olds serving across the nets.
Now coaching at Leixlip Tennis Club, Anatoly is building on those achievements, which include producing seven champion-level platers, with 12 children promoted to national squads.
This is a far cry from his arrival in Ireland in 1999 to coach with Templeogue Tennis Club. In those days, he was inspired by the Greek-American Pete Sampras, who took up a racket as a toddler and became a longtime world number one.
Anatoly claims that his early introduction to boxing training at the age of eight has stood to him. He became a boxing coach on leaving the Uzbek army with the advantage of gaining exposure to a unique coaching methodology in a multi-sport environment in the mixed ethnic society of Tashkent, the capital of the central Asian republic.
He also maintains that tennis coaches who have migrated to Ireland from Ukraine, Latvia and Moldova can also import their multi-sport experiences for the benefit of youngsters emerging in the sport.
In his own club in Co Kildare, Anatoly points to the success of young tennis champions Jackline Vorobeychic, Andrea Pop and Zachary Barry, and he looks forward to many of his students playing at international level in the coming years.
- For Dublin Parks Tennis registration details, contact email@example.com or call 01 833 8711.