Damian Hume (left) with coach Craig Berrange
FUTURE CHAMPION – TIME WILL TELL
“Absolutely awesome.” That is how 18 year old Damian Hume described his experience of playing at Junior Wimbledon this year. And this after competing at the French Open Juniors and Queens Club before that memorable Wimbledon occasion. But we are racing ahead of ourselves. Damian was born in Port Shepstone, so a Shark by birth, and came to Boksburg when he was 5. The sporting genes come from his father and grandfather, who both played Provincial cricket and hockey, for Natal. So where does his love of tennis come from? Well, at Primary School he played what was possibly the forerunner to mini tennis and proved to be good. “It was played with small racquets with big spongy balls over a high net” he said, but for a 9 year old, any net was probably considered high. He then tried tennis and won his first under 16 tournament in Klerksdorp, followed by the Super 7 series in Durban. Then in 2006 he was runner up in the SA National Junior Championships at under18. It was 2006 that saw him become committed to the sport that he was now growing to love. Playing in the ITF Grade 2 Junior tournament in Pretoria he reached the semi finals, and then the quarter finals in Vereeniging. Another step up the rung was achieved. 2007 saw him play in Grade 3 Junior events overseas with quarter final appearances in Malaysia and Indonesia. His ranking was rising but he was still short of the required points to compete at both the French and Wimbledon. He won the warm up tournament for the Africa Cup in Botswana and then won both the singles and doubles in the actual Cup event. He was now on his way with a world junior ranking of 45. By becoming attached to the ITF team, he played in Italy, Spain and Belgium as warm up events for the French Juniors and also to get in some clay court practice. He won on the hard courts in Spain and reached the quarter finals on clay in Italy. “It was tough playing on clay” he said and from my own experience of having learnt the game many, many years ago on the clay in England, it is not a surface that you “bond” with immediately. Learning to slide is an integral part of the game and that alone takes more than a couple of weeks to master.
At the French Junior event he was unlucky to draw the 9th ranked Junior in the world and a player with vastly more experience on that surface. But he had the privilege of hitting with “Rafa” Nadel, for 45 minutes, a practice session organized by the ITF. He was now beginning to “rub shoulders” with the stars of the ATP Tour as his next door neighbour at the hotel was Nikolay Daveydenko. On to England and Queens Club, that so British of British tennis clubs, where he again had a rough draw and lost to Vladimir Ignatik who had just won the French Junior title at Roland Garros. Although up 3-0 in the second set, he finally succumbed 4-6, 6-7. But he was meeting the stars. He played Play Station with Andy Roddick, “he was very friendly”; pool with Novak Djokovic, “what a great guy” and cards with the Brian Brothers. His locker in the dressing room was next to Marcos Baghdatis, “who would always chat to me before his matches.” Damian must have been in his own seventh heaven rubbing shoulders with players of this calibre. At Wimbledon, he was a victim of the draw, yes again, and the weather. He lost in the first round to the world sixth ranked junior who possessed a big serve. The match, originally scheduled for the first Saturday, finally got under way on the following Wednesday. His much needed practice on grass was somewhat curtailed.
When asked who his heroes are he is quick to answer. “Leyton Hewitt because of his fire and passion and his positive attitude and Juan Carlos Ferrero for his shot making especially his “inside out” forehand which I just love.” If he can combine those elements from the two Grand Slam Champions into his game, then all will be well. He credits Earl Granger as “the greatest influence on my game. He has taught me to hit a backhand as all I could do was slice, and improved my all round game. He has also worked on my mental attitude and made me believe that I can do well.” Now he is ready for the next step up and has left to play in the ITF Futures Circuit in Indonesia, comprising three tournaments. This is his first venture into the mens’ circuit and Damian has set a goal for himself of reaching a semi final spot. Looking ahead, he would like to be on the ATP Circuit in two years time. He is being accompanied by Shaun Leisher, with whom he will play doubles, and coach Craig Berrenge. Sadly, South African juniors have had precious little opportunity to travel overseas over the past 15 years. Those who have, like Neville Godwin and Gareth Williams, are the exceptions, as SATA has not been in a position to finance a squad. The last such squad was in the Wayne Ferrera, Grant Stafford and Marcos Ondruska era. So we wish Damian all the very best not only on this trip but in the fulfillment of his dreams of competing on the ATP Tour in a couple of years time.
Interview conducted by Mike Dunk