As a keen tennis fan, I’m all too aware that Wimbledon fortnight represents my best chance to convert casual fans to my favourite sport.
I’m always delighted to see how many supporters will scramble to get tickets to SW19 or watch the tournament on TV - yet once the grass is retired for another year, their interest evaporates.
This is a huge shame, because the British tennis season is about far more than a brief window in June and July when grass courts are in peak condition. Modern tennis is very much an all-year-round sport.
There are a lot of myths surrounding tennis, and an inaccurate perception that it’s expensive and elitist. As an individual and technical sport, it perhaps compares only to golf for the investment required, both financially and athletically, but it’s extremely rewarding and far more accessible that many people think.
Clubs often have generous incentives to get kids from all backgrounds playing - adult membership fees will subsidise group sessions for young children. British Tennis has placed a huge emphasis on inspiring the next generation, and many club coaches now run outreach programmes with schools to generate interest. Although the most talented juniors may face prohibitive individual coaching and competition costs, for most kids it’s an affordable hobby.
The standard of public courts in parks and recreation grounds has improved immensely in recent years, and the LTA are pioneering an online reservation system that they hope to roll out nationwide.
For adults, learning a new sport can be daunting, but larger clubs run LTA-funded sessions for novices and those returning to the game, which are often single-sex. Coaches are great at facilitating social tennis among beginners, and will try their hardest to match people up so they can play together beyond structured classes.
Membership costs are also very much proportionate to the facilities available at a club. I have paid £75 per year to play at a small village club with three courts and no floodlights, to over £30 per month at my current club, which has indoor courts, lighting and a bar. If you don’t need or want a high standard of competitive team tennis, a small club could be a bargain.
My fellow tennis players come from all sorts of backgrounds, and the membership includes several different nationalities - tennis being a global sport. There is always a ‘core’ of retired people with ample disposable income at all clubs, and those in rural areas struggle to find younger players to field in competitive matches. But the sport is a lot more diverse than most people believe, and very welcoming. Good etiquette is important, and there’s a sense of camaraderie and fair play.
With Andy and Jamie Murray, Johanna Konta, Kyle Edmund and Heather Watson all competing on the biggest stage, British tennis has a much greater global profile and is well and truly out of the doldrums of the 1990s and pre-Murray 2000s.
So if you’ve been inspired to pick up a racket after Wimbledon, make sure you go down to your local courts, get a game going and find out more.