Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why It Should Be Child's Play; WIMBLEDON 2001 Supplement

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why It Should Be Child's Play; WIMBLEDON 2001 Supplement

Article excerpt


FOR most youngsters growing up on the doorstep of the world's most famous club, Wimbledon is an enigma. Its grounds and courts stretch across 42 acres of Wimbledon Park but, apart from two weeks of the year, its mystique remains hidden behind the club's fences.

The only opportunity for local schoolkids to step out on the lush green courts comes when, and if, they are selected as ball boys and girls for the tournament which starts next week.

According to experts trying to transform the sport in this country, Wimbledon's snobbery and elitism is one of the main reasons for Britain's failure to produce a player who can win there. It is reflected up and down the country at clubs where a set or two is squeezed in between suburban socialising.

A clich?, perhaps, but the experts tell us the key to unearthing a Wimbledon champion is to open Wimbledon's gates to the country's youngsters. Once that happens everyone else will fall into line.

At last the message seems to be getting through. This year, for the first time in the club's 133-year history, those famous gates have been opened to all kids.

A series of schemes set up by the Lawn Tennis Association and the All England Club have been put in place to allow children aged three and upwards to come down, pick up a racket and try out the game at its spiritual home.

For the last two months hundreds of juniors from schools in the London Boroughs of Merton and Wandsworth have been taking advantage of special weekend coaching and training sessions on the club's outside and practice courts.

Apart from the period of the championships they will be there all year round. When the weather gets too cold to play outdoors they will simply switch to using the club's fantastic indoor facilities.

It has been enthusiastically received with around 1,000 kids turning up each weekend - and that is from a selection of only 12 local schools.

From February, youngsters from across the country will be able to enter a new tournament for under-14s, which will eventually lead to a knockout competition to be run at the All England Club in August.

On the middle Saturday of the championships, boys and girls aged between 10 and 13 will be putting on a demonstration of tennis skills and exercises on the hallowed Centre and No1 courts.

It is all part of the LTA's new [pound]10 million nationwide plan to open the doors of the country's stuffy tennis clubs to ordinary kids, a vision inspired by the LTA's French performance director Patrice Hagelauer.

He said: "Tennis over here at the moment is a hobby for a few privileged adults. If the clubs don't alter their vision we have no chance of producing world-class talents. Either the clubs open their doors and give kids the chance to use their facilities or we stop pretending that we want to produce great players. …

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