This week, IMG and the Tatoï club in Athens, Greece are hosting the IMG Future Stars Invitational Tennis Tournament. Forty-eight players (24 boys, 24 girls) under the age of 12 will compete for an entry into the prestigious Eddie Herr International Junior Championships later this year. Hundreds of kids from around the world submitted application videos.
What makes the IMG Future Stars tournament so unique is the additional perks the players will receive throughout the week. Regardless of their results, kids are required to stay the entire week. Each day, the players—as well as their parents and coaches—will hear keynote addresses from executives from the WTA, ATP, and Nike. Players will also receive two coaching masterclasses from ATP/WTA coaches, as well as media and nutritional training from leading professionals in the field. The week’s events will culminate in an exhibition match featuring two top 15 men's players, Hubert Hurkacz and Carlos Alcaraz.
I had a chance to catch up with Hurkacz to get his thoughts on the tournament, the exhibition match, and the impact this week will have on the next generation of tennis.
Our interview began with discussing the transition from junior tennis to the pros. Most promising junior players are unable to make the jump due to the rigorous schedules, dramatic increase in skill level, and the lack of financial resources. According to Hurkacz, the toughest part of his transition was taking time to adjust to the new competition and lifestyle: "It can take a couple of years for a junior at 18 years old to physically grow up and transition to playing against adults."
The kids at the Future Stars tournament will have a leg up on that transition. Hurkacz highlighted the media training as a good lesson to learn sooner than later: “Be confident in yourself and know which direction you want to go [in each interview]”
The matches will be aired on Tennis Channel for thousands of viewers, and 2,000 spectators are expected daily by the tournament. At the beginning of his career Hurkacz found playing in front of large crowds stressful. Now, especially after a year without fans, Hurkacz enjoys playing in packed stadiums.
Hurkacz also has insight into the importance of nutrition training, as he became vegan at the beginning of his pro career .
“It’s part of growing. When you’re 10 or 11 you don’t think of that stuff, but if you try to eat healthy, it becomes second nature for you," he said.
Another unique aspect of the Future Stars tournament is the experience it provides to parents and coaches as well as the players. All three are required to attend the informational sessions to best learn how to support their players on their journey to becoming professional athletes.
“A great tennis coach understands the emotions of a player on the court," Hurkacz said. "Playing tennis, you are nervous at certain moments of the match, and it’s important for the coach to understand that and help you get through those emotions. It’s not all about technique.”
Finally, we discussed Hurkacz’s exhibition match with Carlos Alcaraz at the tournament. Hurkacz said he was excited for a rematch after their thrilling Miami Open Semifinal just weeks earlier.
“Carlos is such a great player, what he has achieved at this age is incredible” Hurkacz said. “I was never great as a junior or as a younger kid, but it shows if you work hard enough and do the right things, you can get to a super high level."
Overall, the main focus of the IMG Future Stars Tournament is to prepare the next generation of tennis players for their journey to become pros. While the grand prize awarded to the boy’s and girl’s champion is extremely coveted, the real reward will be the knowledge the players gain about playing at the next level. Hurkacz ended the interview with some final advice to the players: “Everyone should focus on enjoying the week and the learning process,” rather than their result.
Photo credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports