The Vietnam Tennis Federation (VTF) has a five-year programme to develop the sport in the near future.

The federation has set up the largest tennis centre in Hanoi , home to 70 top elite youth players between the ages of 10-16, VTF's general secretary, Tran Ngoc Linh told Vietnam News in an interview.

The 4.5h centre will be equipped with the best training conditions, for both Vietnamese and youth from regional countries.

"The federation plans to build the centre as one of the best training sites for Vietnamese prodigies as well as the Southeast Asian countries. We'll invite the best coaches from the world to recruit and train kids in the sport and the language," Linh said.

"It's very important for kids because they will receive the most up-to-date knowledge of skills, techniques, tactics and fitness practices in their training at the centre. Vietnam has yet to build a tennis centre like this," he stressed.

VTF's statistics show that Vietnam has around 5,000 tennis courts nationwide. Only 400 of the 250,000 players are professionals who play tennis regularly.

Currently, the country has 30 top players, who compete in the annual International Tennis Federation (ITF) tournaments, but none of their names are in the top 100 rankings of juniors.

Among them, only Nguyen Hoang Thien, 16, places 248th in ITF's juniors rankings, while the others can be found in the list of 1,000.

The HCM City native has been funded by his family's coffer since he begun training in the age of eight.

He was the only Vietnamese player at the Australian Juniors Open early this year.

The VTF has been seeking more sponsors for funding more youth competition in international tournaments, which helps them improve in the world's rankings, as well as taking part in the world events.

In 2003, it inked a sponsorship with British insurance giant Prudential in a long-term programme which created an annual tournament for teenagers and chances to train aboard.

The co-operation produced a clutch of tennis talent, including 14-year-old Ly Hoang Nam and Ho Huynh Dan Mach, 16, both from Binh Duong.

Nam currently ranks at 1,158 in the ITF's juniors, while Dan Mach places at 872th.

Other teenagers such as Pham Minh Tuan of Da Nang , Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Huynh Phi Khanh are prominent stars.

The head of the tennis section at the national Sports Administration, Doan Quoc Cuong, said the co-operation with Prudential is the best chance for teenagers to improve their skills.

"We have asked businesses to join us in building a tennis academy in the country soon," Cuong said.

He added that the tennis section receives only 35,000 USD from the State budget in organising domestic tournaments as well as funding for top athletes.

The VTF also complained that the lack of facilities, qualified coaches and funding in Vietnam has hurt tennis' development in the country.

" Vietnam has four big tennis centres in Hanoi , HCM City , Da Nang and Binh Duong with 300 coaches. Binh Duong and HCM City are assigned to organise ITF's tournaments annually," ITF's general secretary explained.

The southern provinces of Binh Duong and Bac Lieu were selected by the ITF as the two destinations for its annual Vietnam International Junior Championships.

National Sports College No 1 in the town of Tu Son , Bac Ninh Province , recently began offering tennis courses.

"They (coaches) should be trained with updated international knowledge as well as basic sport science. Sports doctors and physical coaches are few in the country," VTF's general secretary said./.