STROUD’S Oliver Smalley insists he will never forget his outing at the All England Club after starring in front of former British No.1 Tim Henman as part of the HSBC Road to Wimbledon National 14 & Under Challenge Finals.
The 13-year-old Marling Grammar School pupil booked himself a spot at SW19 after competing in his County Finals but lost his three matches in a tough group before falling in the first round of the Boys Consolation draw.
Some 20,000 promising young tennis players from all over Britain competed in pursuit of a prestigious place at Wimbledon with Smalley among the top 144 boys and girls to have earned the right to play at the National Finals.
And, despite failing to follow in 2013 Wimbledon Champion Andy Murray’s footsteps by lifting silverware at SW19, Smalley admitted his outing at the All England Club was certainly the highlight of his summer.
“It was really exciting because it was the first time I’ve tried to get to Wimbledon in that tournament.
“There are a lot of good players and I’ve never really played on grass before but it is cool to play on.
“It’s great knowing that you’re playing on the same practice courts as all the top tennis players and I’ve never even been to Wimbledon before.
“I just wanted to enjoy it and to try and win a few games – and I’ll try to improve my game from here.”
Smalley, who trains at St Michael’s Park in Cirencester, even got the chance to meet former British No.1 and HSBC Tournament Ambassador Henman while playing at Wimbledon.
Henman spent time with the players, signed autographs, and posed for photos with the finalists and insisted he was impressed with the standard on show this year at SW19.
“I’ve been involved for the 12 years of the programme and it’s fantastic to see how the standard has improved,” said Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist.
“There are kids that are going to want to play tournaments and compete at a higher level and this is a great stepping stone, to have this experience and learn from the match-play and competition.
“You talk about the mental side of things, and it’s that application, going out there and giving 100 per cent is all you can do – those types of values will get you a long way in life.”
The HSBC Road to Wimbledon National 14 & Under Challenge is the UK’s largest national junior grass court tournament and forms part of HSBC’s investment in the stars of the future - www.hsbcroadtowimbledon.com