THE + medicash Liverpool International has been a stage where a succession of world number ones have honed their talents.
Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka had barely registered on the world scene when they graced Calderstones Park.
All three went on to become giants of the sport – and this year tournament organiser Anders Borg is hoping to showcase even more obscure stars of the future.
Japheth Anwasiba Bagerbaseh, 18, and Albert Apreku Arthur, 23, are Ghanaian Davis Cup players who have never played outside of Africa, or even on grass before.
Yet next week they will be given the opportunity to play in the Liverpool International against some of the most recognised faces in world sport.
“It’s a dream come true to play in a tournament which has been graced by players like Novak Djokovic, Marat Safin and Fernando Gonzalez,” said Bagerbaseh.
“It’s a great experience.”
While Arthur added: “We’re really excited about the opportunity.”
Borg explained his initiative.
“We want to try and reach out as far and as wide as possible,” he said.
“We have a great relationship with Samuel Jalloh, who is based here.
“He has a charity which sends equipment back to Ghana, and through the charity I said ‘why don’t we invite some of the players who are up and coming and give them some grass court experience?’
“These two have played for the Ghanaian Davis Cup team and they will enter the qualifiers at the David Lloyd Centre with one of them qualifying for the tournament proper.
“Tennis is a global game and it’s played everywhere. Even in the poorest of countries.”
Bagerbaseh and Arthur will join local youngsters for training sessions run by world-class American tennis coach Nick Bollettieri – as well as one of them stepping out onto Calderstones Park to face leading ATP players headlined by South African world top 30 ranked star Kevin Anderson.
Sam Jalloh is a professional tennis coach and former professional player from Sierra Leone who represented his country in the Davis Cup.
Now based in Merseyside, he devotes much of his time to running sports programmes for underprivileged children in Africa through his charity, The Sam Jalloh Foundation.
He explained: “Although both players have already represented their country at an international level in competitions across Africa, this will be the first time they will ever have played in Europe or on a grass court.
“I’m not worried though.
“They’re both very strong, ambitious players and they’re arriving a few days early to help them acclimatise and find their feet on grass.”
He added: “It’s very difficult for African players to compete at a top level internationally, no matter how talented they are, because the funding and support that young athletes get here, simply don’t exist over there.
“South Sudan is an incredibly poor country, and it’s expensive to travel the world playing on the tennis circuit, so the opportunities for rising stars to play competitions and get their rankings up are few and far between.
“The Liverpool International is a unique tournament, and it’s great that the organisers are so supportive of nurturing talented players, regardless of their background or circumstances. I don’t know of another European tournament with such an open attitude.”
THE African pair will be joined at Calderstones Park by top 30 ranked ATP star Kevin Anderson, Robert Bradley Kendrick and legends Richard Krajicek, Mansour Bahrami, Greg Rusedski and Virginia Wade.
FOR more details and to book tickets for the + medicash Liverpool International which takes place at Calderstones Park between Thursday June 21-Sunday June 24 log on to www.liverpooltennis.co.uk