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LTA director of tennis Richard Lewis
"We want to get more people into the game"
 real 28k

Serena Williams
"It's great to get more people involved"
 real 28k


Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Can the Williams duo help Britain?
Williams sisters
The LTA want the Williams sisters to help spread the game
Another Wimbledon, another lack of British participation in the later stages, another agonised spell of introspection and another eureka - here's how to revitalise British tennis, version 2000.

Wimbledon was all about the Williams and the Williams can be the beginning of the beginning for British tennis in the 21st century - according to some at the Lawn Tennis Association.

The sisters said after their doubles success on Monday that they would be willing to listen to what the LTA were considering.

"It sounds like a really great idea and we would love to come here because the people have been so good over the last two weeks," said Serena.

"It's important to get more tennis programmes going for minorities and we are up for the idea it's a fantastic plan."



It's important to get more tennis programmes going for minorities

Serena Williams

The LTA's idea is to use the sisters to promote the sport amongst both ethnic minorities and inner city areas.

The most optimistic plan is for Serena and Venus to embark on some sort of tour of the country giving coaching clinics - if it's Monday it must be Moss Side, Tuesday Tower Hamlets - barring that a short visit or at the very least a message recorded on video exhorting young people to put down their Play Stations and take up their rackets.

In an age when reports and surveys emerge almost weekly stating and bemoaning young people's increased inactivity, it would be easy to dismiss the whole idea as having as much chance of success as Ali G has of developing a wicked second serve.

Hectic schedule

But why should it not work or at least be attempted? The biggest stumbling block may well prove the hectic schedule which dominates the sisters' lives. On top of which they have also expressed an interest in doing a similar thing in Africa, let alone America.

Then there is the question of facilities and equipment - inner city areas are not overblessed with tennis courts and access to the nearest costs, as do rackets, balls etc.

"We realise that Venus and Serena might be in great demand but whatever happens, we are going to use the fact that they are great role models anyway," asserted the LTA's director of tennis, Richard Lewis.


Williams sisters

"We are very keen to get minorities from our inner cities involved and a lot of it is a question of perceptions. We have to try to make tennis available to them year round and show that it doesn't have to be expensive to play.

"We do have some programmes in place and when they see what the likes of Venus have done, hopefully it will be something they will find easy to relate to."

Inspirational

For an example of what the ripple effect of the Williams' success might do, look no further than Venus herself.

One of the inspirational figures of her formative tennis years was Zena Garrison, who, prior to Venus, was the last black women to reach a Wimbledon final when she lost to Martina Navratilova a decade ago.

Garrison was at Wimbledon on Saturday in the Williams' guest box and she is well aware of the positive effect the sisters' success could have on the game, albeit from a US perspective.


Zina Garrison
Zina Garrison

She is involved in just the sort of scheme the LTA would like to blossom in the UK. And Garrison believes it is the influence of role models that can provide the initail boost to the sport.

"Tiger Woods has brought more awareness of golf to minorities and I can definitely see the influence that these two sistors have had already.

"I have my own programme now in Houston and if you bring out a four-year-old kid on court, the first thing they talk about is wanting to be Serena or Venus.

"When I started playing I didn't know who anyone was. I'm really hoping that this is going to stimulate the game as a whole."

Garrison herself emerged from an inner-city scheme in the States more than a decade ago - isn't it time there was an attempt to discover a British Zina, Serena or Venus?

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See also:

10 Jul 00 |  The BBC Team
The Williams factor
10 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Sisters make history
08 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Wonderful Williams
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