With multiple passports and parents from opposite ends of the globe, 15-year-old Karim Najia has just burst onto the radar of hardcore British Tennis fans with his victory at the Fajr Junior Tournament on Kish Island in Iran, his first title at U18 level. But who exactly is this new British starlet?The young Brit hasn’t always played under the colours of the Union Jack; indeed, as recently at 2014, he represented Lebanon at U14 level at the Davis Cup ITF World Junior Tennis Competition. He has a Lebanese/British father and an Australian/French mother, but the family currently reside in the United Arab Emirates after moving from the UK in 2001. He is registered with the LTA as well as the French Tennis Federation, and holds passports from both countries.
Karim began playing tennis aged four and trained with Peter Burwash International before moving to the Al Wasl club, where he remained until 2012. The Brit currently studies at the Lycee Francais Georges Pompidou school in Dubai, and has been training at the PSS Academy for 4 years under the tutelage of Sigi Meeuws and Michael Vanherck.
Speaking to The National in 2011, Karim said: “I used to accompany and watch my father play at the Aviation Club,” Karim said. “I would have been around four when I started to play tennis. I was seven when I had more understanding of the game and trained at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.”
Aged nine, Najia picked up an under 12 title at the Dubai Duty Free Barclays Junior Tennis Championships in 2010. In 2010 and 2011 he became the UAE’s Under-12 national champion, and in 2012, aged 11, became the champion at U14 level.Najia also had the fortune of signing a sponsorship deal back in 2012 with fast food franchise Just Falafel, which included financial support for all expenses including coaching tournament fees, travelling costs and equipment. Najia spoke to the Hotelier Middle East, saying “I am incredibly grateful for the support of Just Falafel and their faith in me as I progress through this season. I am looking forward to our partnership over the year ahead and playing to the best of my ability.”
That year, aged 13, he won his first ITF Juniors main draw match – at the Grade 5 UAE Dubai ITF Junior Championships, which just so happened to be held at the same Dubai Aviation Club he watched his father play at when he was a child.
After joining the PSS Academy in 2012, the youngster told Gulf News in 2014 of his satisfaction with the progress he had been making at the there: “The team has been of great support. Sigi [Meeuws] has been very important to me and has helped me get stronger mentally as well as tactically. He also helps me off the court. We travel together. The best place is his mother’s house in Belgium. She’s an amazing cook!”Meeuws himself has also spoken of the potential of the British youngster: “Karim is a very talented and gifted player. He can achieve a lot if he continues. He is for sure on track for a scholarship Division 1 in USA, but I believe he has more in him.” Indeed, both his parents have expressed an interest in taking the US College route when the time comes. His father spoke to the National in 2010: “For me, if he gets a scholarship at a great university somewhere in the world, gets a degree and does it through tennis, that is an achievement,” while his mother is reluctant to make decisions for him: “We don’t want to force anything on him, but it would be great if he can go to the US on a scholarship. That way he can keep playing tennis as well.”
In a recent video uploaded by the PSS Academy, Najia speaks of his own desire to become a professional tennis player: “I think I can get a great education through my tennis, and my long term goal is to be a professional tennis player.” Having hit with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and with comparisons already being made to the similarly unassuming Spaniard David Ferrer, it’s clear the young Brit has bags of potential.
Potential which was unleashed in some style at the Grade 5 event in Iran last week. The Brit, seeded ninth, dropped just one set in five matches, and took out the first, third and fourth seeds en route to clinching the title. If the rest of his career pans out the way his week in Kish Island did last week, we have a very exciting young prospect on our hands.