Wimbledon wild card for Ipswich teenager

IPSWICH'S hottest tennis prospect Ashley Watling has been granted a wild card entry into this summer's Junior Wimbledon following his whirlwind rise up the world rankings.

Stuart Watson

IPSWICH'S hottest tennis prospect Ashley Watling has been granted a wild card entry into this summer's Junior Wimbledon following his whirlwind rise up the world rankings.

STUART WATSON spoke to the 18 year-old Washbrook resident about his hopes and dreams.

ASHLEY Watling is a long-term product of Ipswich Sports Club but has really pushed on with his game over the past eight months since joining and living at the Win Tennis Academy at Bisham Abbey in Buckinghamshire.

At the same time Watling also decided to fully commit himself to a run on the international circuit and has subsequently played tournaments all over the world, including Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica.

It was not an easy or cheap decision to make, his parents having to fund virtually all of his spiralling travel costs, but was one that has definitely reaped dividends so far.

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The speedy left-hander has not only broken into the top 10 of the Lawn Tennis Association's (LTA) UK junior rankings, but has also burst into the top 150 of the International Tennis Federation's (ITF) world junior rankings.

Junior Wimbledon automatically gives entry to the top 60 players in the world, while those between 60 and 92 have the opportunity to play in a qualifying event.

But although Watling was outside of that cut-off point, the LTA decided that his recent form was so impressive that he was deserving of one of their six wild card places.

Watling said: “I just can't believe it. Last year I was still training at Ipswich and playing national tournaments and now I'm playing internationally, have a world ranking and will be at Wimbledon.

“If I can do well at Wimbledon it would be the perfect end to my final junior year and will really set me up for the transition into the men's game.

“I'm expecting it to be a huge step up but I am hopeful that I can make a name for myself.”

Watling, who is currently studying through a distance learning scheme with Copleston High School, started playing short tennis at the age of five at Capel St Mary village hall.

Within a year he had joined Ipswich Sports Club and was soon representing his county.

By the age of eight Watling had started playing in national tournaments and, by the age of 11, he had been selected for the LTA Futures programme.

Ipswich Sports Club coach Martin Coates said: “I've coached Ashley since the age of six and have spent a huge amount of time with him on and off the court.

“It has been a huge pleasure for me to have worked with such a talented youngster, but it got to a stage last year when we knew he might plateau for a year if he stayed in Ipswich.”

Watling added: “Ipswich Sports Club have been amazing in helping me get to where I am today, but being at Bisham Abbey has allowed me to play regularly against better players which has meant I have constantly had to strive to raise my game.”

ASHLEY Watling is keeping his fingers crossed that he might get the opportunity of a lifetime and train on court with Roger Federer next week.

The Suffolk youngster is due to play in the junior section of the Halle tournament in north Germany, a competition which Federer famously uses as his warm up event for Wimbledon.

And the 18 year-old is hopeful that, through links between his and Federer's coaches, he might be able to get a short amount of court time with the world No.1.

Watling said: “My coach at Bisham Abbey (WIN Tennis Academy) is Farid Benatous who coached the likes of Nicolas Kiefer.

“From what I understand he is good friends with Federer's coach so I am hoping that I might be able to get a quick hit with him in Germany.”

Watling's tennis education bears remarkable parallels with Federers in that he, like the Swiss all-rounder, has honed his skills in other racket sports.

In addition to being a fine badminton player, Watling was the Racketlon U16 world champion in 2005 and the Suffolk and East Anglia Under-17 squash champion in 2006.

Martin Coates, Watling's former coach at Ipswich Sports Club, said: “Because he comes from a racket sports background he has developed a lot of the different shots and has fantastic hands too.

“He is just incredibly fast around the court and makes shots that other players could never make.”

Coates added: “The most promising thing about Ashley though is that he is still as passionate about tennis now as he was when he first started all those years ago.

“The players are so closely matched when you get up towards that top tier now though and the pyramid is only going to get narrower and narrower.

“This summer is really the culmination of everything he has worked towards.”

Coates added: “One of the key factors to Ashley's success has been his parent's commitment. Mike and Karen have been so supportive over his career and have travelled all over the country to support him.”

Watling's father Mike Watling said: “When you see your son with an obvious talent you want to encourage that. Although it hasn't always been cheap to help him chase his goals it has definitely been worth it.”

Following Junior Wimbledon, Watling is hoping to play at the US Open and tour South Africa.

Those that would like to sponsor Watling and aid his spiralling transport costs can contact Mike Watling on 01473 730599.

Ashley Watling Facts

N Has been awarded the Suffolk LTA Boys Junior of the Year Award every year since 2001.

N Was Racketlon U16 world champion in 2005.

N Became the youngest winner of the men's singles at Ipswich Sports Club's Club Championships in 93 years.

N Qualified for the finals of Road to Wimbledon in 2003 at the age of 14 and won the boys' doubles event with Matthew Hough.

N Has represented Great Britain on tournament training trips to Italy, France and Spain.

N His most memorable moment came in the first round of the 2002 Masters National Event when he beat the then UK No.1 in front of past champions such as Jeremy Bates, Sam Smith and Mark Cox.

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