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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 18:47 GMT 19:47 UK
The Williams factor
Serena and Venus Williams
The Williams sisters have taken tennis by storm
BBC sports correspondent Rob Bonnet examines the latest idea to improve the fortunes of British tennis.

So what impact will the Williams sisters REALLY have on British tennis if they agree to the overtures of the Lawn Tennis Association?

Their athleticism on court and charm off it have got the LTA thinking.

Their image is strong and Britain's need is urgent (as always) - perhaps Venus and Serena with their LA ghetto street-credibility and three Wimbledon titles between them can be the role models to get inner-city talent into the game?

That's certainly the view of Richard Lewis, LTA director of tennis.


He says their achievements will be something ethnic youth can relate to - tennis with attitude. Maybe so - but would it have any lasting effect?

Sure, there'd be temporary interest as Venus and Serena breezed into Brixton or Moss Side.

There would be the sound-bites, (from father Richard too!), the coaching clinic and the goody-bags, but when they're off to their next big tournament, then what?

More mediocrity, snobbery and complacency in the suburbs and the shires - the attitudes of tennis? Probably. Pass the cucumber sandwiches, there's a good chap.

Venus and Serena Williams
Wimbledon wonders
It will take more than a few Williams promotional posters to paper over the social chasms in the British game, where the administrators know their stated intentions for inner-city kids do not necessarily match realistic expectations across the country.

They know what the grass-roots are saying about how the local young loud-mouths behave on the football pitch and how they don't want it at the tennis club.

Not unreasonably, you might think!

And don't count on the carrot and stick approach from the National Lottery.

Ask the local club chairman if greater community use might not be a small price to pay for the fat cheque that would buy court-resurfacing, floodlights and new changing rooms and you might not get the answer you were expecting.


Instead, it could be a volley straight out of the Sampras guide to a no-nonsense 7th Wimbledon title.

"Now look here, this place has been ticking over perfectly well enough for years.

"It may not be perfect but I can damn-well play when I want to without having to share the courts and the showers with the riff-raff.

"And it's my club, my subscription and my chums - so you know what you can do with your Lottery grant old boy!"

The LTA's performance director Patrice Hagelauer comes from a country where the quality of the facilities matches the volume of the players that use them and where the young are positively encouraged.

Patrice Hagelauer
Patrice Hagelauer
And where, across sport, there is now a tradition of getting results.

He was also painfully aware of the problems in taking on The British Tennis Club when he was appointed in March last year.

Quietly, maybe, Hagelauer's Gallic charm is working its magic as he tries to spread the egalitarian gospel around the country?

More likely, the club chairman's gin-and-tonic, gentle assurances and firm handshake are followed by the same old stubborn British conservatism.

"Nice chap, that Hagelauer, but the committee won't wear it".


The next test for British tennis comes up this week of course - the Davis Cup tie against Ecuador at the All England Club.

It is a chance to re-create the popular atmosphere of those matches last year against the USA, and Henman heroics might fill the public courts for another week after Wimbledon.

But the overall effect would probably be as lasting as a photo-opportunity with the Williams family.

Until, that is, the club chairman and his committee move on.

Do you agree with what Rob Bonnet has to say?

I agree entirely with everything that Rob Bonnet states. British tennis is in an abysmal state mainly because of the attitudes of most clubs towards juniors. You really have to be middle-class to play tennis in this country. Children from working class backgrounds are not really welcome at most tennis clubs in Britain. A good example being the local club in Bournemouth where a junior player may not join unless one of his/her parents join as a full tennis member, even though that parent may not play or even want to play tennis. So it will cost over 700 per year for a junior to join. On top of which 1 must be paid to book one hour's play on court. So much for the LTA's plans to bring tennis to the general population. How many people can afford to pay over 700 per year on top of the extra costs of coaching, tennis equipment, tournament fees etc.? Individual coaching at this club (supposedly one of the best clubs in the country) costs between 16 and 18 per hour! Tennis in thi! ! s country is basically about money.
Brian McGuinness, United Kingdom

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See also:

08 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Wonderful Williams
08 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Venus can sleep easy
08 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Championing tennis
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