There has never been such an exciting aspect of local junior tennis competitions like a rivalry between Arusha and Dar es Salaam players.
The rivalry dates back to almost a decade ago when the then top local junior players in Dar es Salaam led by Kiango Kipingu and Omary Abdallah battled against their Arusha compatriots led by the Jonas brothers, Lembris and Jonas, in competitions held either in Arusha or Dar es Salaam.
There were lots of fireworks in matches pitting the juniors who were keenly looking to impress at the competitive stage and put themselves in a better position to continue excelling at the senior level in the following years.
Neither Arusha nor Dar es Salaam players managed to totally dominate competitions at the time as both regions produced gifted players who went on to win trophies for their clubs in different age categories of the events.
The past few years, however, witnessed Arusha players slowly take command of local competitions particularly in the boys' category of the events in which the likes of Yassin Shaaban, Justin Joseph and Shaaban Ibrahim held sway, leaving Dar es Salaam youngsters led by Loth Hema, Fred Charles, John Bahuta, Hamisi Omary and Hafidh Hamis battling for the second best spot.
Dar es Salaam youngsters have hardly made efforts to reverse the trend in the boys' category of competition but the region has had its share of glorious moments in the girls' category in which the likes of Mkunde Idd and Violet Peter have been giving their compatriots from Arusha including Lydia Lucas, Joyce Japhrey and Melissa Brown a run for their money.
The age old rivalry has continued to take centre stage in competitions this year and the BQ Open junior tournament held at Dar es Salaam Gymkhana Club (DGC) courts last week was no exception.
Fireworks were again on display as junior players from Arusha and hosts DGC battled furiously in search of trophies, medals and a place in one of the top positions in the rankings, which could assure the youngsters of a chance to compete in major regional tournaments.
Neither of the two regions took total control of the proceedings in the competition and it was nothing but rivalry that produced much excitement in both boys and girls categories.
While Arusha boys continued to dominate the boys' category especially in events involving big boys aged 14 years and under and 18 years and under, hosts DGC paraded their dependable arsenals in the girls' category, Mkunde, Violet and others, and went on to claim top honours in the category.
The DGC girls managed to keep Arusha’s rising star Lydia Lucas at bay in the girls' 18 years and under category games in which Mkunde emerged winner while Violet finished runner-up.
Lydia, whose performance has been picking up as time passes by, however, battled her way to glory in the girls 14 years and under event, winning the trophy with an impressive display that condemned her DGC opponent Edna John to the runner-up position.
Lydia looks to have benefited a lot from her stint in the Africa Junior Championships (AJC) held in Morocco earlier this year in which she was the only girl who represented Tanzania in the event as she exhibited an exciting fighting spirit in the BQ Open tournament.
The towering girl from Arusha Gymkhana Club is more of a baseline player but used the BQ Open to prove she is slowly developing into an all court performer, making occasional forays to the net and fighting for every point, but she still has to work hard to turn into a true winner.
A noticeable feature of Arusha’s desire to boost rivalry in the girls’ category was the introduction of Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC) tennis club’s youngster Farida Shaaban, who was making her debut appearance in a competitive event outside her familiar venue in Arusha.
Farida, who is Yassin Shaaban’s sister, did not fare well in the BQ Open tournament but her presence was enough to substantiate the fact that Arusha is no longer willing to lose out to Dar es Salaam in girls’ events.
AICC tennis club's head coach Pius John revealed recently that Farida was among the club's young female players whose progress will be under close watch with a view to moulding her into the best female player who could outsmart the club's former star Lydia and the rest of the local girls.
Arusha boys Tumaini Martin and his brother Goodluck Shelemo dominated the boys’ 14 year and under and 18 years and under events with solid performances that left DGC boys led by Salum Msafiri fighting for the remaining positions.
Shelemo, a towering, athletic teenager, had little trouble posting victory in the 18 years and under matches on his way to winning the trophy and none could match his strong performance that gave opponents no breathing space.
The highlight of the BQ Open tournament, though, was a thrilling battle between Arusha Gymkhana Club’s Martin and DGC’s John Njau in the second round of the boys’ 14 years and under event in which Martin won the memorable three-setter 2-4, 4-2, 4-3(4).
Theirs was the most entertaining duel bringing together hard hitters with very little separating them in terms of the level of performance.
Martin, who was also part of Tanzania’s contingent to the AJC in Morocco, put his skillful all court displays to edge hard fighting Njau in a game that was characterized by exciting rallies which won them much applause from spectators.
The fact that Martin was able to come from a set down and level matters in the second prior to sealing the win in the deciding third set proved the youngster has developed into a never-say-die player, who is ready to push opponents all the way.
Njau, who has endured an outsider status in most of the 14 years and under events in recent competitions, showed a few tricks he had been learning along the way -- the ability to hold on to rallies and win points via volleys and smashes when opportunities come his way, only to be let down by lack of concentration.
“Njau might have lost the match but his game has improved tremendously and he only needs to work on a few weaknesses including poor serves and returns to be a winner in competitive events,” said one of the DGC junior tennis coaches who opted for anonymity.
Arusha and Dar es Salaam junior players’ rivalry in the BQ Open tournament, all in all, proved to be an important aspect of the event which served as a platform for boosting the players’ confidence and desire to excel in coming events.