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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Does British tennis have a future?
By Tom Fordyce

Tim Henman
Henman was the only Briton in the third round of Wimbledon

The number of British players in the world top 100 will double over the next 10 years, say officials.

This year, for the first time in 35 years, not a single British woman made the second round at Wimbledon, while Tim Henman was the only British man to make the third round.

But the Lawn Tennis Association insists it has made the necessary changes to the culture of club tennis in Britain to start producing more winners.

Its critics say the numbers do not add up. What is the truth? BBC Sport finds out.

There are 40,000 tennis courts in Britain - which equates to one for every 1,500 people in the country.

That's not a bad ratio, if you consider that a large proportion of those people are either too old or too young to take active part in tennis.

True, there are 45,000 football pitches in England alone. But football is far and away the most popular sport.

Of more relevance is the comparison with France - where there are almost four times as many courts.

France has 9,200 tennis clubs, compared to Britain's 2,598. So straight away this country is at a huge disadvantage.

Tim Henman looks disappointed
Population 60m, 2 men in top 200
10.2m, 6 men in top 200
4.4m, 4 men in top 200
145m, 7 men in top 200
40m, 23 men in top 200
What about access to these courts?

The LTA claims that 25,000 children a week are taking part in its 23 City Tennis Clubs, which run in inner-city parks across the country.

"We've had an 80% increase over the last year in the number of kids under 11 playing tennis," the LTA's marketing director Steve Curzon told this website.

"We'll then have more kids competing at a local level, more kids competing to get into the academies, more fighting to be number one."

The perception persists in some quarters that private clubs are to blame for being too elitist.

But under the LTA's Club Vision initiative, only clubs that actively promote junior tennis and make attempts to attract more kids - for example, by no longer insisting on all-white clothing - get extra funding.

To date, 1,591 of Britain's 2,598 clubs have signed up.

But how easy is it in reality for, say, a 14-year-old girl impressed by watching Wimbledon on television to get involved in tennis?

We contacted six clubs around the country - in Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Sunderland and Hertfordshire - to find out.

Average cost of year's membership for under-16s: 83
Time/court restrictions: some
Coaching and tournaments: available at all

The results were encouraging. At each one we were met with enthusiasm, talk of cheap junior memberships and tournaments and guarantees of court time.

The statistics show that tennis is fourth among sports in Britain for attracting child participation.

But as those children get older, tennis' popularity plummets and it ranks a lowly 14th in retaining that interest through the teenage years.

And only a tiny minority go on to play the sport competively; Britain has just 20,000 people playing competitive tennis compared to 160,000 in France.

So what do the LTA plan to do to turn that around?

"Tennis has to work a lot harder on bringing in some of the celebrity glamour that sports like football have," admits Curzon.

"We have to move away from the old restrictions like all-white clothing. We have to look beyond the two weeks of Wimbledon and bring in the glamour that makes sports stars what they are."

The LTA's supporters say that it isn't just tennis that struggles to attract teenagers, that there are too many other things competing for their leisure time - computer games, pop music, going out.

Then again, surely it's exactly the same in other modern European countries - and they manage to produce far more top-flight tennis players.

Belgium, which has a population a sixth of the size of Britain's, has six men in the world's top 200 and two women in the top three - while Spain, with two-thirds of Britain's population, has six men and four women in the respective world top 50s.

Britain also has the huge bonus of the profits made from Wimbledon, with the LTA receiving an estimated 26m from the tournament each year.

The LTA insists the comparison is an unfair one.

"People choose to look at the money the LTA brings in, but we're way behind other countries in the amount local and national government spends on sport," says spokesman Curzon.

"In Britain we spend something like 1.30 per head of population on sport through government, while in France it's close to 5 and in Sweden it's even higher.

"We shouldn't fool ourselves and think we're competing on level terms with other countries."

Will there be a British winner of Wimbledon in any of our lifetimes?

Don't put your house on it. Britain clearly has a long way to go until it gets close to its rivals.

But at the same time, changes are underway. The sport at grassroots level is looking healthier than it did a decade ago.

The man in charge, David Felgate, is promising he does not expect to keep his job if things don't soon feed through to the senior level.

Indeed, if things do not improve, his will not be the only neck on the line.

Why don't more British people play tennis?
Clubs too elitist
Not enough courts
Not enough role models
It's not sexy enough
It costs too much
226 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion





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Hope for Henman amid gloom
03 Jul 03  |  Wimbledon 2003
Henman rues missed chance
03 Jul 03  |  Wimbledon 2003

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