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IMG's Future Stars Invitational Tournament to showcase the world's top under-12 talent, while preparing them for the realities of pro-tour life
The inaugural event, to be held in Athens, Greece, will take place from April 25 to May 1, 2022, and stream live on Tennis Channel Plus and Tennis Channel International.
Published Jul 20, 2021
WATCH: The IMG Future Stars Invitational Tournament aims to help the next stars of our sport.
Denis Shapovalov’s recent run to the Wimbledon semifinals was the apex of the Canadian’s still-blossoming career. To get there, the 22-year-old won two five-set matches, ousted a top-10 seed in straight sets and defeated an iconic British champion on Centre Court. His eventual loss to eventual champion Novak Djokovic—7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5—came down to just a few points, even if it ended in three sets.
But ask most tennis fans the moment they remember most about Shapovalov, and I’m guessing that it won’t be from that memorable tournament, despite the achievement. More likely, it will be his breakout performance at the Rogers Cup, four years ago, when he electrified Montreal as a 143rd-ranked wild card. Just 18 at the time, Shapovalov reached the semis there, too, and it was his fearless play in a third-set tiebreaker against Rafael Nadal that showed the world, on a big stage and for the first time, the kind of moxie that continues to define him today.
The lesson from this? It’s never too early for the moment that can make a player a household name—and it’s never too early for a player to prepare for it.
We recognize the importance of creating an environment for the next generation of tennis professionals that supports both their physical and mental health while teaching them how to succeed in a very competitive industry. Max Eisenbud
Enter the IMG Future Stars Invitational Tournament, which serves to address both purposes. It’s an unprecended showcase of the world’s best under-12 players—matches will be streamed live on Tennis Channel Plus and Tennis Channel International—and an opportunity to teach these top prospects about the world of professional sports they may soon inhabit.
“We recognize the importance of creating an environment for the next generation of tennis professionals that supports both their physical and mental health while teaching them how to succeed in a very competitive industry,” said Max Eisenbud, SVP, IMG Tennis, a division of WME Sports.
The expectations placed upon young athletes, especially those playing an international, round-the-calendar sport such as tennis, have arguably never been greater. It's made some players the best versions of themselves they can be, from a competitive standpoint; it has also taken a toll on others, given the many on- and off-court demands. A cadre of top-ranked players, including Daniil Medvedev, Carlos Alcaraz, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, recognize this and have lent their support to the IMG Future Stars Invitational Tournament, to be held at the TATΟΪ Club in Athens, Greece, from April 25 to May 1, 2022.
On the court, the 24 boys and 24 girls selected will be competing for invitations to the renowned Eddie Herr International Junior Championship later in 2022. Off the court, they’ll attend workshops hosted by executives from the ATP, WTA, Nike and IMG about the life of a professional tennis player, and the resources available to help achieve it, particularly in the areas of health and wellness.
“IMG is dedicated to providing these young athletes with all the tools they need to win both on and off the court,” said Eisenbud, “and we’re grateful to our partners in TATΟΪ Club, Tennis Channel and Nike for their incredible support in this effort.”
Over the past 12 months, Djokovic and Azarenka have shown that a player’s peak can be on the later side of their tennis journey. But it’s the first steps they took on those journeys that remain some of their most indelible memories. There was room for them as young, rising stars, and there remains room for them now, as experienced and accomplished veterans.
"I feel like in the last couple of years for me age is just a number," Djokovic said after winning his 20th Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon. "I've said that before. I don't feel that I'm old or anything like that. Obviously things are a bit different and you have to adjust and adapt to your, so to say, phases you go through in your career."
Wherever the tennis journeys of the 48 players that we’ll see at the IMG Future Stars Invitational Tournament take them, it will be fascinating to watch how they all begin.