Barry Flatman (Sunday Times Tennic Correspondent) - January 2014
For a while the admirable success of Croatian duo Borna Coric and Donna Vekic, seemed to put the original aim of JTC, to provide top flight British coaching for elite British players in the shade. However the recent exploits of Katy Dunne, Beth Askew and Harriet Dart have more than redressed the balance.
The teenaged trio, who have all joined the JTC squad based at the Virgin Active Northwood Riverside club in the last six months, were all seeking new guidance and at various levels had frankly lost their way on the tennis trail. Yet how things have changed; their appetite for the sport has been replenished under the experienced coaching team of Alan Jones, Jo Durie, Naomi Cavaday and David Felgate and success at the end of last year has left them looking forward to 2014 with revitalised optimism.
There was no doubting the three girls potential. Katy had attained a junior combined world ranking of no.9 earlier this year after reaching the third round of the Australian Open , Beth was the National Under 18 champion and Harriet won the Aegon British Tour Masters title at the end of 2012. But all were seeking a new kind of direction.
No coach in British tennis is more experienced than Alan Jones and he saw some very familiar signs. “Basically they all needed to fall in love with the game again, get some enthusiasm back and remember the most important thing is to be in a positive environment where they don’t feel pressurised to get results,” he said.
“That’s what we do here at the JTC because if they are good enough, if they feel happy in their day to day environment and if they are prepared to put in the hard work, the results will take care of themselves and they don’t have to fret about them.”
So it proved and as the old year was drawing to a close the trio, along with coach Naomi Cavaday, set off on in search of WTA ranking points at three $10,000 International Tennis Federation events; the first at Rethymno on the Aegean island of Crete and then two more in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh.
Katy, aged 18 and from Hemel Hempstead, took singles titles in both Rethymno and the second of the Sharm El Sheikh events, while for good measure she reached the semi-finals of the first. Not content with that she also won the doubles title on Crete with Beth Askew before teaming up with Harriet Dart to triumph again the first week in Egypt and narrowly lose out in the final to a Korean pair in the second.
Beth, another 18 year-old who hails from Liverpool, also won through qualifying in Rethymno and won a round in the main draw which was sufficient to earn her a WTA ranking. Harriet, the youngest of the trio who only turned 17 in late July and a resident of Hampstead, registered five singles wins on thr trip with her best performance a semi final finish at the second Sharm El Sheikh tournament.
“It was the first time I had taken them away on a trip so it was a question of getting to know them as people and also seeing how they played in a competitive situation,” said coach Naomi. “All in all, it was pretty near perfect. We achieved a lot of goals and it really sets things up for all them going into the New Year.
“There were so many positive memories to come out of the trip and winning so many titles was tremendous but if one thing sticks with me it was Katy winning a semi-final in Crete that lasted four and a half hours in gale force winds. It was ugly tennis but took a lot of guts and determination to win.”
Enjoyment and commitment to the JTC ethos exudes from all three girls. “I’m reluctant to say it but I was thinking of giving up tennis before I came here,” admitted Katy Dunne. “I was putting far too much pressure on myself to come up with the results and I wasn’t enjoying the experience. But the coaches here put me far more at ease, the training had re-energized me mentally and right now I’m in a far better place.”
Beth Askew was in a similar frame of mind. “Just after Wimbledon I was asking how much longer I wanted to play or did I want to do something different?” she said. “But I came down to JTC to see what it was like. Pretty much immediately I was so impressed with the experience of the coaches and how different it was from what I’d known before and everyone is so supportive of the other players.”
Harriet was previously based at the Lawn Tennis Association’s National Training Centre in Roehampton but said: “I was looking for something else and came here in October. Everyone’s work ethic is so good and everyone here wants to get better. I so much prefer this environment.”
And the success continues further down the age scale with Georgie Axon, the 14 year-old from Hertfordshire who so impressed JTC founder Clive Shearling with her style and enthusiasm when practicing with Donna Vekic that he enrolled her in the group. After winning a title in Guadelope last year, she began 2014 by reaching the semi-final of the Salk Open in Bromma, Sweden and now, four years younger than most of her rivals, is on the verge of the world’s top 250 at under 18 level.