Muscat: Thanks to the well-deserved recognition received by the Oman Tennis Association (OTA) from the International Tennis Federation (ITF), OTA officials are gearing up for the two annual ITF Oman International Junior Under-18 Championships with renewed vigour.
Following four years of success in hosting the back-to-back junior hard-court tournaments, the ITF has decided to upgrade one of the two tournaments from Grade 5 to Grade 4. The recognition from the Federation is a shot in the arm for Omani tennis officials, who are now in the final stages of preparations for the twin events, which start on January 28.
"It is great news for the OTA officials as well as those involved in Oman's tennis circuit. The ITF has upgraded the first of our two junior tournaments from Grade 5 to 4," noted OTA technical advisor Karim Saadallah.
"This upgrade means the ITF has recognised our organisational abilities and the success of our tournaments. Another factor that contributed to this upgrade is that the tournaments we have hosted for the last four years have been complaint-free," he added.
A delighted Salman Al Balushi, OTA's Executive Director, said: "Obviously, we are all delighted, and the credit goes to the entire team, our association's officials and all those who are involved in hosting the tournament."
"I am delighted to announce that everything required to host a successful event for the fifth year in a row is ready," Salman remarked. "Be it the hospitality or transport arrangements or the management of the playing courts at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, everything is in place," stated Salman.
"The players have already started arriving, and the rest are scheduled to arrive soon," he noted, adding: "We are just waiting for the action to begin." Karim, meanwhile, explained that thanks to the growing popularity of the sport, this year's tournaments in Oman have attracted more than 80 players from 30 countries.
"This year, we will see more players than in the previous editions. And this shows that upcoming junior players are interested in our tournaments. The other reason is that the dates don't clash with other tournaments. For instance, last year, the Qatar junior finals clashed with the starting dates of our tournaments. This time, the players have no such hassles."
Providing details of the tournaments, which will see players competing in four categories — boys' singles and doubles and girls' singles and doubles — he said, "The sign-in for the first Grade-4 tournament will take place on Friday, and the qualifying rounds will take place on Saturday and Sunday. The main draw will be held from January 28 to February 2."
"The sign-in for the second tournament will be on February 1, with the qualifiers on Feburay 2 and 3, while the main event will run from February 4–9."
Karim also noted that this time, as in previous years, the tournament referee will be ITF white-badge holder Venkateson Karthikeyan, and he will be assisted by another white-badge holder, Tanios Kanaan from Lebanon. Speaking in reference to local participation, Karim pointed out that the OTA has decided to give four Omanis — two boys and two girls — wild cards into the qualifiers.
"Amongst the boys, we will have Younis Al Rawahi and Ahmed Al Balushi, and amongst the girls, it will be Sarah Al Balushi and Samar Al Bakri. We may see more Omanis in action, but this will hinge on the withdrawal of the registered players."
Mohammed Al Balushi will be the tournament director, while Salim Abubaker, Siddique Al Hashmi, Jamal Al Masroori and Salman Al Balushi are members of the committee. Rehab Hotel is the official tournament hotel.