Burundi is not exactly a country known for its tennis talent. In fact, most people would probably be hard-pressed to locate it on a map.
We’ll save you the trouble. Burundi is a land-locked African nation bordered by Rwanda to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and Tanzania to the south and east. With 8.6 million inhabitants, it is one of the world’s poorest nations, its history plagued by political unrest, civil war and crippling famine.
Yet a ray of positivity emerging from the troubled nation is young tennis player Hassan Ndayishimiye, who thanks to the Grand Slam Development Fund has been accumulating valuable competitive experience all around the globe.
His progress stalled slightly with today’s first round loss to No.3 seed Gianluigi Quinzi in the Wimbledon junior boys’ event, but nevertheless Ndayishimiye has been building an impressive junior resume. He is one of 16 players competing at Wimbledon as part of the ITF/Grand Slam International 18-and-under touring team, financed through the Grand Slam Development Fund initiative.
“Without [the Grand Slam Development Fund] it’s not possible for me to travel. I’ve been travelling quite a lot, and it’s a really good experience for me because I’m not really used to [this] and playing a lot of tournaments,” the No.58 ITF-ranked junior said.
“I’m really feeling good and getting to meet a lot of players with different experiences. I’ve been with the team for two months now – this is our last tournament and then we go back and try to get ready for the US Open.”
The Grand Slam Development Fund was established in 1986 to facilitate competitive opportunities for players from developing tennis regions. It receives annual contributions from the four Grand Slam nations – Australia, France, Great Britain and the United States – and since its launch has generated more than $75 million in funding. Tennis stars including Victoria Azarenka (Belarus), Li Na (China), Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus) and Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil) have benefited from the initiative.
Burundi is even more remote in the tennis world compared to those nations. But the opportunities afforded to Ndayishimiye appear to be having a flow-on effect – Burundi now has another three boys who have gained an ITF junior ranking and more young children are discovering the game, no doubt inspired by Ndayishimiye’s success that has seen him rise as high as world No.27.
“[Tennis] wasn’t a big sport [in Burundi] until last year when I came out here [to Wimbledon] and really tried my best as usual, and I did quite alright after qualifying and winning the first round,” he explained.
“It was really a big thing – that’s when the youngsters they knew it was really possible to get here. It’s just all hard work. That’s how we started developing some youngsters to start playing tennis more and more.”
Ndayishimiye got his own start in the game through his father, who, as a tennis coach, introduced his son to the sport as a five-year-old. Showing both a talent and love for the game, he has since moved to South Africa to train under the guidance of coach Dermot Sweeney at the ITF’s African Training Centre.
Wimbledon was one of the tournaments Ndayishimiye used to watch when growing up. He admired 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt for his energy and effort on the court, and ten years later at this year’s Championships, he bumped into Hewitt during a practice session.
“I was really happy to meet him for the first time yesterday. I just saw him and I took a couple of pictures, and then he was taking a break and I asked him ‘hey Lleyton can I take a photo?’ and he was like ‘sure’,” he recounted with a laugh.
The chance to speak to an idol will no doubt inspire Ndayishimiye as he begins to transition into senior tennis. Turning 18 in August, he said he would think about contesting some Futures events during the next 12 months. He’s very clear about the path required for to achieve success, which could ultimately have further positive ramifications for tennis in his homeland.
“I just need to keep on working hard and I need to always stay focused, and that’s the big thing.”
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