The 2013 ITF Men’s Futures Rwanda F1 tournament, which ran in the first week of the month, proved a hard nut to crack for the country’s players yet again as they faced early exits.
Local players have always struggled in the competition and it remained a big hurdle as none went past the first leg.
After last-minute pull-outs by top seeds Dieudonne Habiyambere and Jean Claude Gasigwa with an ankle and a shoulder injury, respectively, Rwanda’s luck remained in four junior players — Olivier Havugimana, Hakim Ntwali, Mathieu Uwizeyimana and Anatole Bizimana.
Bizimana fell to seed three Yannick Mertens of Belgium, number 347 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings. The 26-year- old beat his Rwandan opponent 6-0, 6-1 to march into the second round while Uwizeyimana fell to Jannis Kiniger of Switzerland 2-6, 2-6.
Ntwali was sent packing by South African Molaoa Refiloe with a 6-4 6-4 straight set defeats while Havugimana, who participated in the tournament on a wildcard, lost to Fynn Mark of Zimbabwe 6-1 6-2.
The hosts’ rough ride means that the ITF Men’s Future has been elusive for Rwandans ever since Eric Hagenimana reached the quarter-finals of the tournament in 2006.
Hagenimana, who is now based in the US, defied the odds and reached the last eight only to lose to France’s Maxime Bonami 6-2, 5-7, 4-6.
Top seed Gerard Melzer from Austria lifted his first singles accolade of the year and second ITF Men’s Future Rwanda F1 title in a row.
The 23-year-old left-handed Melzer, 201st on the ATP rankings, edged out compatriot Lukas Jastraunig with a downhill 6-1 6-1 victory.
Melzer later teamed up with Jastraunig to claim the doubles title when they registered a 6-2, 6-4 win over Jannis Liniger of Switzerland and India’s Mithun Murali.
In an interview with Rwanda Today, Rwanda Tennis Federation chairman Theoneste Karenzi admitted that local players have always found it tough because the ITF Futures attracts the best competitors.
“Our players have struggled to rise on the top of the bar in the ITF Futures,” said Karenzi. “These kinds of tournaments attract the best-ranked ATP players, who solely want to elevate their status.
“The only way we think we can rectify this poor performance by our players is to put more emphasis on training and giving the needed platform for them to play and enjoy tennis.”
Habiyambere, who watched the games from the stands, observed that local players would always face a tough challenge to break foreign dominance in the competition.
“We are always overwhelmed with the kind of performance many of the foreign players exhibit in these annual tournaments,” he said. “I have personally faced some top quality players and, unless we improve our game considerably, it will be hard to break foreign dominance even in years to come.
“I don’t think training alone is a good way to put us in the right shape; I think competing in many top level tournaments will help us, even the juniors, to up our game.”
Karenzi said: “We have plans to develop a tennis academy which will be equipped with right infrastructures to enable young players to play the sport on a regular basis with quality coaches.
“If this academy starts as we hope, we expect to have Rwandan players in the ITF Futures finals in the next five years.”