Photo: Martin Sidorjak
Throughout February, Tennis Canada celebrated Black History Month, recognizing the achievements of players past and present. Now, it’s time to hear from the future of Canadian tennis.
Both Victoria Mboko and Jaden Weekes are extremely talented young players who are on the precipice of turning professional. Both played a huge role in Tennis Canada’s year-end fundraising campaign, Where I’m Raised, and both are National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers (NTC) athletes. Both of their immediate families trace their roots outside of Canada.
At just 15 and 17 years old respectively, Mboko and Weekes are acutely aware of the importance of Black History Month and recognizing black heritage in the sport of tennis. “There are so many black athletes in the world, and I think it’s important we recognize athletes of colour and what they represent in the sports world,” Mboko said.
“It shows people that anyone can do it and if you believe in your dreams, you can make it to the top no matter what race you are,” Weekes added. “So, it’s very important, not just for kids but for everybody to see that you’re able to make it.” Growing up with three older siblings in Toronto, Mboko, who already this year has finished as runner up in girls’ doubles at the Australian Open – alongside fellow Canadian and NTC athlete Kayla Cross – and won the J1 Porto Alegre singles event on clay, traces her background to Congo, where her parents are originally from.
As an aspirational tennis star, the youngster started out playing at local academies in Burlington and drew inspiration from arguably the greatest of all time… “When I was younger, it was a given that [my idol] was Serena [Williams],” she said.
“I really liked how she was aggressive at the baseline. She was and is so popular and it felt like she gives so much representation for the black community. Not only setting examples for me, but for many young athletes around the world. It’s just really nice to have that representation.”
Aside from the 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams, Mboko has several Canadian tennis stars to look up to as she continues to carve her path to the top of the game. That includes two players of colour in Félix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Annie Fernandez, both of whom have enjoyed incredible success over the past year, claiming their first professional titles and making deep runs at Grand Slams.
“As a teenager myself, it’s very inspiring to see athletes of colour on the tour,” Mboko added. “Having people of colour to look up to as professional players and wanting to walk in their footsteps, especially those two [Félix and Leylah], because they’re also Canadian, and they’re playing at such big events. It’s just really inspiring to see them representing people of colour as well.”
Weekes was born and raised in Montreal. His mother comes from the Philippines, while his father is from Saint Vincent and the Grenadine. He has an older brother and a younger sister who also play tennis. Like Mboko, he is keeping a close eye on the incredible performances of Canadians on the pro tours, especially Auger-Aliassime and Fernandez.
“I take a lot of inspiration and motivation from them because they went through the same path that I’m going through right now,” he said. “So, to see their success is very, very motivational and I think it gives me a very good chance of making it too.”
During the off-season, Weekes regularly gets the opportunity to hit with Auger-Aliassime. They are moments to savour for the 17-year-old, who is influenced by the hard work and dedication the current World No. 9 shows every day on court.
“Whenever he [Félix] is in town, he likes to hit with the young ones and give them the chance to have a hit with him,” Weekes said. “So, it’s very nice, it’s very different for me because the pace is very different but it’s nice for me to see what it takes the be a Top 10 player. He’s so dedicated and you see that he belongs where he is because of his work ethic.”