Tennis is a real smash

Simon ParkinNorwich is currently experiencing its Wimbledon-inspired annual rush to the tennis courts. But can Andy Murray-inspired newcomers be tempted to stay for longer than a short-lived knockabout? SIMON PARKIN reports.Simon Parkin

Norwich is currently experiencing its Wimbledon-inspired annual rush to the tennis courts. But can Andy Murray-inspired newcomers be tempted to stay for longer than a short-lived knockabout? SIMON PARKIN reports.

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Even with competition this summer from the World Cup, if Andy Murray manages to get the latter stages of this year's Wimbledon in his quest became the first Britain to lift the men's singles trophy for 72-years, then the annual June rush to pick up a racket and book a tennis court will be stronger than ever.

Norwich's public courts, in common with courts all over the country, see a sharp spike in serve and volley activity over the Wimbledon fortnight. Sadly all too often this influx of enthusiasm is short-lived and as the memories of centre court action fade the rackets are consigned to the back of garage once again.

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Getting youngsters, in particular, to play the game all year round isn't hampered by facilities. Norwich is blessed with a wide range of both public and private courts, with Norwich City Council maintaining a number of grass and hard surface courts to a high standard.

Its also not sidelined in schools. Alison Oliver, director of sport for the Youth Sport Trust, which helps deliver the government's national school sport strategy, says: 'It's quite a common misconception that tennis is elitist - probably as a result of the way tennis is played in clubs. But it has a different profile in schools, where it has always been a cornerstone of the summer sports curriculum. Most schools have some sort of playground and can offer tennis.'

However there remain barriers to encouraging young players to take up the sport seriously. Derek Perry, director of tennis at the East Anglia Tennis and Squash Club, is realistic about the difficulties the sport faces in attracting and retaining promising players.

'It's tough,' he said. 'There's a large drop-out rate and one of the biggest problems we have at this time of year, when the older kids have exams, is that school does take over a large part of their lives.

'From 10 onwards, it can take over, which can be a slight problem. I think we probably have three major problems. One is the cost of the sport, because it still keeps it under that elitist banner, however much you try to avoid it.

'If you are a good regional level player, your parents are probably spending �5000-8000 a year on your needs. At the higher level, national level, you are probably looking at �10,000-15,000.'

In a bid to get round this and get more people of all ages playing the game, Norwich City Council is offering free tennis for casual users at nine of its hard tennis courts as part of a 12-month pilot scheme. Players of any age or ability can play for no charge at courts at Lakenham Recreation Ground, Harford Park, Bowthorpe Park, Alderman Walker Park, Heartsease and Waterloo Park - saving more than a fiver an hour. And the council is investigating other ways to help players.

A spokesman said: 'Work is now in place to investigate the development of a Greater Norwich Tennis Partnership which if approved and successful could include free access to and external investment on hard courts in Eaton Park.

'This could work well as a council-led scheme for free access to the other hard courts in Norwich, with the potential for addressing certain barriers - such as the purchase of equipment and the cost of lessons - things that can sometimes prevent budding tennis enthusiasts from taking part in the sport.'


t Norwich City Council manages 10 grass tennis courts at Heigham Park; and 12 hard courts split between Alderman Walker Park, Bowthorpe Park, Eaton Park, Harford Park, Lakenham Rec. and Waterloo Park. Grass courts can be booked for the season or on a one off basis on 0808 1680149. Prices are �5.80 (�2.90 cons) per court, per hour. Hard courts operate on a pay and play basis. Prices �5.30 (�2.90 cons).

t The East Anglia Tennis and Squash Club, located between the Ipswich and Newmarket Roads, has evolved from a croquet and tennis club in the 1940s to Norfolk's premier racket club, with 10 tennis courts, seven floodlit. It caters to all ages and abilities of player. LTA coaching is available, and there are tennis leagues, both within the club and in the men's, ladies and mixed teams in the Norfolk leagues. Full adult subscription is �22 a month, full family rate �49 a month, with �25 joining fee. More details: 01603 453532.

t UEA Sportspark has 12 floodlit tarmac tennis courts. Mon-Sun from 8.30am-9.30pm. Book 60-minute slots, up 14-days in advance for members on 01603 592398 or in person, 7-days in advance in person only for non-members. Pay and play is �6.25 off-peak (�3.20 sportscard holders), �6.25 (�4.30) standard. Maximum of two consecutive booking slots permitted.

t Norfolk Health and Racquets Club, part of the Esporta centre on Drayton Road, has six indoor and five outdoor courts. More details: 01603 309400.

t East Anglia Tennis runs numerous coaching courses aimed at everyone from three-year-olds right up to pensioners. Locations include Wymnondham, Taverham and Hellesdon, as well as Eaton Park. More details: 01603 505335.