THE latest crop of talented youngsters to sign up to Florin Nita's innovative coaching programme are now taking the first steps on the road to potential tennis stardom.

The Bushey-based former Romanian Davis Cup player has hand picked a select group of young players to attend the elite (eight to 14-year-olds) and premier (14 to 19-year-olds) year-long courses at his National International Tennis Academy, the latest of which got under way earlier this month.

Although there is no guarantee of success, if the youngsters are fully committed and put in the hard work they stand a good chance of joining the ever-lengthening list of exciting prospects turned out by the Hemel Hempstead academy since Nita bought it in 1997.

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If proof is needed, the results of Nita's unique approach the FN Coaching System speak for themselves.

"This year, I think we can be very proud of the results we obtained, compared to all the other clubs in Herts," the coach said.

What was effectively an under 19 squad beat adult teams from Harpenden, Bishop's Stortford, Berkhamsted, Leverstock Green and West Herts to take the Herts LTA National Club League, the 16 to 19-year-old men's team won the county crown, and are now through to the national county play-offs, while the under 17 boys came second in the regional finals having won their group of the National Club League.

Furthermore, Bucks closed singles and doubles finalist Simon Loah is now eligible for the International Tennis Federation tour, along with academy club-mate Nabil Lababedi, while Nita's son, Stefan, and Alexander Pop are close to moving onto the pinnacle of their profession, the ATP tour.

All these players are products of the FN System, which is innovative, and almost revolutionary in its approach. It is complex, because it is tailored to the individual, and uses "specialist methods", which are influenced by psychological, physical, scientific and medical factors, as well as utilising specific coaching procedures to improve and perfect each player's game.

The aim of the system is to create "model" players, who will have the ability to achieve the best results at whatever standard they are competing.

When each child is accepted into the academy, Nita gives them a work programme for the year, which will build into a detailed technical, physical and psychological profile of the player, if they survive the intensity of the course.

The value of this "tennis profile" can be fully realised if a youngster changes clubs because it gives their new coach an up-to-date and detailed report on their tennis background and progress, and physical and psychological make up.

"It really is a big help to see what a child has done, rather than have to go over what they may have done before and waste time," Nita explained.

For the first half of the course, Nita concentrates on improving the players' technical and physical knowledge. Through the National League, the youngsters are then competitively exposed, and this typically climaxes during the summer months with trips abroad to compete in international tournaments.

With around six hours of training per week, the course is intense, although 85 per cent of last year's academy youngsters successfully came through the course and have returned this year to continue their tennis education and development.

As a contemporary of Illie Nastase and Ion Tiriac, Nita enjoyed the golden era of Romianian tennis in the 1970s, but it was not without its downside.

His coaches included Gunther Bosch the man who discovered Boris Becker - but sport, politics and the military with closely linked, and this ultimately led to Nita's demise as an international player.

Romanian sport has been traditionally dominated by the capital city's two great clubs, Dinamo Bucharest, operated by the security police, and army-based Steaua Bucharest.

In 1978, Nita was part of the Steaua squad that won the national league, but political problems made him switch camps the following year. Dinamo had never won the league, but in 1979 with Nita playing in the deciding doubles they beat their city rivals.

Various allegations were levelled against Nita, but the crunch came when he received an invitation to play in Belgium, and the security police asked him to use his tennis as a cover for acting as an informant and he refused. As punishment, he was refused the necessary visas to travel outside the eastern bloc.

With his hands tied by the authorities vowing to make sure his family would never work again if he left eastern Europe, he finally opted to coach juniors instead of playing in open tournaments.

Nita's involvement with British tennis dates back a decade when he was given the chance to assist in developing a junior coaching system, with the national training system providing a focal point for this.

A lengthy delay in obtaining his work permit meant Nita was unable to put his ideas into practice immediately, but this was to prove only a temporary setback.

Nita had an ally in David Lloyd, who subsequently gave the Romanian the job of junior co-ordinator at his Bushey club. Within four years, the FN System had produced the junior champions of both Herts and Beds.

Through his academy, which attracts many players from the Watford, Kings Langley and Garston areas, Nita also develops the social side of the sport, as well as the performance, but he explained: "We need to make people aware more. It is a message that we need to insist on that a system like this is developed everywhere, and then the standard of tennis will rise.

"It doesn't matter if it is an individual group or an LTA club, it will all contribute to British tennis."

For more information on the academy, and its activities, contact Florin Nita on 01442 230234.