Updated: May 7
A pristine beach on the Atlantic Ocean in Havana is the perfect place for a stroll. But if you’re visiting this historic Cuban city, watch out for wayward backhands. That’s because tennis coach Carlos López Toledo uses the hard-packed sand as a practice court for Eco Tennis Cuba.
“I have dedicated myself to promoting tennis in small spaces using low-pressure balls,” said López Toledo, 28, the founder of Eco Tennis Cuba, which is based in Havana. “We use mini tennis nets in the streets. We play in open parks and squares. And in Havana we play with the intention of promoting beach tennis.”
López Toledo played junior tennis and competed in tournaments out of the Ferroviario Club. The club is near his home and is the headquarters of Eco Tennis Cuba. Today, López Toledo is certified as a Level II tennis coach by the Cuban Tennis Federation.
“Our Ferroviario Club headquarters were founded in 1921,” López Toledo said. “So this year it will be 100 years old. It has four full-size clay courts that are not in the best condition. They have drainage problems. We want to spread the word to tennis lovers so that when they travel to Cuba for vacation that they support us in exhibitions, clinics and workshops in parks, streets and squares. But this has not stopped our desire to continue working. Before Covid 19 started we had champion players in the under-10-year-old division.”
López Toledo said his top-ranked boy is 10-year-old Brian Alfonzo, while his top-ranked girl is 10-year-old Yeneisi Pavon. López Toledo’s students also include two sisters, one with autism and the other with intellectual disabilities.
López Toledo also introduced Adaptive Standing Tennis (TAP), having practice on one of empty Havana streets near his home. Henry Haniel, 15, is one of López Toledo’s top students. TAP is the abbreviation for the Spanish expression for playing from the foot up, or standing. This category of tennis is for individuals with a physical disability such as amputees, Cerebral Palsy or hemi-paralysis (individuals who have suffered a stroke) who wish to play ambulatory tennis instead of using a wheelchair.
Cuban players face a lack of good courts, equipment and money. In addition, many of the youths in Cuba play soccer because they do not need a lot of equipment--just one ball and you can play anywhere.
“We tennis coaches must find different ways to motivate our players to retain them and not go to other sports,” López Toledo said. “We do not have indoor tennis courts. Playing outside is hard because the sun is very strong and sometimes it rains a lot in the months of May, June, July and August.”
Donations have helped López Toledo grow the program. He has received tennis racquets and equipment from visiting coaches. Sometimes those coaches will drop in for training sessions at parks, traffic-free streets, schoolyards and old tennis clubs.
The passion for tennis has quickly sparked an interest in Havana, as people see Eco Tennis Cuba students playing in the streets, parks and schools. López Toledo hopes to encourage his best players to become coaches for a future academy.
“Another way to get the word out would be if a tennis player with photography skills would visit us and take great photos of our practices,” López Toledo said. “We could hold exhibitions in the streets and parks of Cuba, and then a photo gallery could be made so that people know where we can take tennis.”
Eco Tennis Cuba plans to utilize the Universal Tennis Rating (UTR) system. While tennis in Cuba is still relatively small, López Toledo continues to contact journalists both online and in print to get the word out.
For more information, visit Eco Tennis Cuba and Carlos López Toledo on Facebook via the app for ease and convenience: https://www.facebook.com/carlos.lopeztoledo.52