Luc Briand is quite literally one of a kind. The 12-year-old is the only individual athlete from St-Pierre et Miquelon competing at this week’s Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games, co-hosted by the towns of Harbour Grace and Carbonear.
While plenty of his friends from home will compete with the French islands’ soccer entries this week, Briand’s Games experience promises to serve up something different.
“You can only play one sport and I chose to play tennis. I prefer single sports to team sports,” says Briand, who is competing for the Eastern region on a team out of the Marystown Tennis Club.
Now, you’re probably asking how someone from St-Pierre could be playing with a Newfoundland-based team. Well, you see, Briand’s father, Jean-Marc, is a Frenchman, while his mother, Holly, is from Grand Bank, where Luc spends his summers. As a result, he enjoys highly competitive soccer, dual citizenship, fluency in two language and now, the opportunity to compete in his first Provincial Games.
That opportunity was almost denied him however, since Games officials initially wouldn’t accept his registration.
“We thought because he played with Marystown he could automatically play. (When) we found out there were Summer Games this year, we assumed he was going,” says his mother.
“They refused him because you have to go to school and live in the area you’re representing. We contested it because he is a Canadian citizen, we have a home in Grand Bank, where we pay taxes, and have a mailing address. We’re residents like anyone else.”
With the support of provincial tennis coach Steve Mahar, St. John’s tennis coach Mike Gibson and Lori Mayo-Stokes of the Marystown Tennis Club, the decision was overturned and the self-described “all-around athlete” was free to take to the courts at Aero Park in Harbour Grace this week.
Heading into Monday evening’s team bronze-medal match — the Games’ format sees teams compete against each other in four matches (female and male singles and doubles) — Briand was doing that, having gone undefeated in singles play. (Results were not available as of press time)
Luc began playing tennis at the age of three, joining his father in hitting shots against a big red wall in front of their home.
“We’d hit for hours and hours. When I got into my first tennis lesson, unlike some of the other students, I was already able to hit the ball,” says a quietly confident Briand, who models his game after his favourite player, Roger Federer, who methodically going about his business on the court and, as Luc says, makes “it look so easy.”
Briand gets tennis instruction 10 months of the year at the St. Pierre Tennis Action Club, which is part of Team Daniel Contet.
Contet is a former ranked French international player who operates one of France’s biggest tennis schools, which Briand attended in April.
“It was in the south (of France), by Nice. That was pretty cool,” he says sheepishly.
While there, he got to take in the ATP Monte Carlo Championship semifinals and final featuring Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
In St-Pierre, Luc and the other Action Club competitors train inside a gymnasium. That, and the fact that training time is limited, can be seen as drawbacks to development, but Gibson — who provides some coaching for Briand — sees a lot of potential in the youngster.
“He’s improved so much over the last year. For the amount of time they spend on the court and what they teach inside a gym, it’s amazing,” says Gibson. “If the kid was in a structured program where he was getting two to three hours a day, I think he could be an amazing player because he has the right attitude and he’s very coachable and he wants to learn the game.”
Briand’s court time could get a bump in the New Year when a new two-court indoor tennis centre opens in St-Pierre.