This May, a group of elite tennis players from around the world gathered in Paris to show their prowess on red clay. And while the French Open got underway across town, these talented juniors under age 13, representing 16 countries, competed in the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris’ business district, La Défense. The event kicked off with a draw ceremony inside the Eiffel Tower, as tennis legends Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario pulled names to determine the first-round match ups.
Luxury watch brand Longines celebrated its 10th anniversary as official partner and timekeeper of the French Open this year, marking the occasion with the release of a women’s version of the Conquest 1/100th Roland Garros timepiece. The watch features precision time keeping to one hundredth of a second, with flecks of orange in homage to the striking color of the terre battue at Roland Garros. Credit for the women’s model goes to Longines ambassador Steffi Graf, who saw the men’s version and asked the company to create a feminine counterpart.
The Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament was also inspired by Graf. “When we started eight years ago, we did it because we had a celebration of Stefanie Graf and Andre Agassi with ten years of victory at the French Open,” Juan-Carlos Capelli, Vice President of Longines and Head of International Marketing, tells Tennis View Magazine. “And we were looking for the new generation of tennis and the new champion of the French Open ten years after.” What began as an event for European countries has now expanded worldwide, with participants from North America, Australia, Asia, and Europe, alternating between boys and girls each year.
The 16 remarkable girls who were chosen to represent their countries this year are the top players from their respective nations. Nikki Yanez, a 12-year-old from Florida, won three matches in one day to clinch the US qualifying tournament and earn her trip to Paris. Yanez only started playing tennis when she was nine years old, and she is already beating girls who are going off to college – as well as her older brothers. She practices on the court for just one hour a day, but spends hours training off the court. She does gymnastics to help with balance, ballet for posture, and MMA to hit the ball harder. Her dad, who coaches her, believes that limiting court time forces her to spend every second focused on practice, and that effort shows in matches as Nikki constantly bounces on her toes with intense concentration.
Yanez counts Rafael Nadal as her idol, and she models her game after his. That means trying to impart as much spin as possible on the ball but also comes through in the way she mimics the Mallorcan’s impeccable sportsmanship and positive attitude. Watching Nikki play, it’s impossible to tell if she is winning or losing. After an error or before a big point, she turns to face the fence and calms herself down, using mantras that her dad has placed all over their home to hone her mental game. “I tell myself, ‘come on, you can do it, just forget about the last point,’” she says. Her strong game brought her all the way to the semifinals of the Paris event, where she lost a tight three-set match to the eventual champion, Spain’s María Dolores López Martínez, who won a Longines watch, a trophy, and sponsorship for her tennis equipment until age 16.
All the girls had a chance to practice at the Longines Academy in Paris and receive advice from Sánchez-Vicario, who told them to focus on having fun and just do their best. Kim Clijsters spent time with the players on the day of the final and reflected that seeing them reminded her of being a young girl watching the French Open on television and dreaming of the day when she could play in Paris.
Paul Yanez, Nikki’s father, says that the tournament was a great opportunity to compete against top international players – but more importantly, to develop new friendships. “Longines from the top down is really promoting that the kids have fun and they learn from the experience,” he says. “Other tournaments are more competitive. Longines wants the girls to actually become friends and everyone is friendly to each other.” After the final, the players were able to watch their idols in action at Roland Garros, a tournament they hope to compete in a few years from now. Just as Kim Clijsters made her dream come true, maybe some of these girls will make it to the French Open final one day.VIEW ARTICLE