ACHARNES, Greece — Behold Dominik Defoe. Ten years old and barely taller than the net. Golden brown shoulder-length curls bouncing in the air as he chases and crushes tennis balls, which he does better than just about any kid his age.
Defoe loves to fiddle with the GPS in his mother’s car, so in the morning when they head to school, the phone directs them to Roland Garros, site of the French Open. He does it so often that his mother knows Roland Garros is 2 hours 47 minutes away from their home in Belgium.
Defoe was nearly in tears earlier this year when he received one of the 48 invitations from IMG, the sports and entertainment conglomerate, to attend the first Future Stars Invitational Tournament at the posh Tatoi Club in the northern suburbs of Athens. The event, for boys and girls aged 12 and under, is both a tournament and a weeklong education in the life that might await Defoe and his rarefied peers, complete with seminars led by executives at Nike and the men’s and women’s pro tours, the ATP and the WTA.
The race to find the sport’s next stars has come to this: With eight-figure fortunes potentially at stake, agents and scouts are evaluating and cultivating players even younger than 10 who are just getting started in serious competition. Future Stars is the newest and most extravagant recruitment effort for IMG, the company that essentially invented the sports representation business and dominated tennis for years.