TEENAGE TENNIS starlet Dominique Olaleye has a bright future ahead of her as she gears up to play at Wimbledon next month.
Around the same time that Novak Djokovic tumbled out of the professional tournament, the 14-year-old made it through to the national finals of the HSBC Road to Wimbledon 14 & Under Challenge, which aims to inspire the next generation of Wimbledon stars.
She will play at the All England Club between August 8 and 13, at the venue where her sporting hero, Venus Williams, has won many a trophy.
“I’m really, really excited – I can’t wait”, Dominique told the Voice of Sport ahead of the National Finals.
“It was a surprise (to make it past the regional stage of the competition) because I’ve not played in that many tournaments recently. So I wasn’t expecting it.
“I find her (Venus Williams) really inspirational and I find what she’s achieved really impressive. I want to become a professional tennis player and want to do as well as Venus has done and be like her.”
Dominique has been playing tennis from the age of six and is coached by her dad, Samson, a former semi-professional footballer who now represents the England Veterans men’s team.
Samson, a mortgage broker, managed one of his local sides, Islington St Mary’s, to the final of the Brent Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1996, and played in the Conference for Wealdstone and Dagenham & Redbridge.
Prior to her dad’s involvement, Dominique was taught by a tennis coach but, after not doing as well as he would have liked, Samson began taking his daughter to the park to work on her movement, drawing upon his football coaching experience and tennis drills he studied on Youtube.
“The one thing I know you need in most sports is movement and your feet,” Samson said.
“If you keep your feet active and moving, that gives you half a chance in any sport you’re doing.
“That’s the first thing I tried to teach her. Her fitness levels, I got them right up. She’ll never be short of fitness.
“It’s been such a whirlwind. I’ve only done it because I don’t want my children (Samson is the father of two daughters) sitting around doing nothing.
“I never wanted them to do that or be on computer games. So because I’m quite sportive, my thing was to get them a sport which they could do and enjoy.
“I didn’t expect her (Dominique) to do what she’s done. I’m in awe of her for what she’s achieved in such a short space of time.
“There’s a funny thing in our family because her younger sister has started playing and she’s got the shape of Serena and Dominique has got the shape of Venus. So when they’re on the court, people call them Venus and Serena because of their shapes.”
Dominique began playing at local competitions and proceeded to have stints playing at Batchwood Golf and Tennis Centre – where she caught the eye of the Lawn Tennis Association and received a grant, tipped as a player to watch – and the Junior Tennis Coaching (JTC) centre, in Northwood, after Batchwood had burnt down.
The starlet has been playing for Kenton Tennis Club from the start of her tennis journey and is Kenton champion.
Amongst a host of other sporting accolades, Dominique is an accomplished cross country runner and good at the high jump too.
Dominique has spent the last year trying out a number of sports rather than focussing solely on tennis and has done extremely well to get to the finals, despite her lack of tournament practice.
Jo Simpson, head of physical education at Northwood College, believes her pupil can win.
She said: “On the day, if she performs well she can easily win. She regularly beats players who, on paper, are far better than her.
“She’s got a very good attitude and is a very good sportswoman. She’s not arrogant, she’s a graceful loser and a great winner – she’s very, very good.”
WORDS: Jamie Barlow