No Wimbledon But This Could Still Be A Pivotal Summer For Tennis

The Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) announcement that it has taken over Local Tennis Leagues was a shot in the arm for the sport last week.

Its move to acquire the Leagues in a bid to make the sport more accessible was further good news following its announcement of an operating profit of £8m at the end of May.

For a sporting body that has struggled for good news stories in recent years, it has been a positive couple of weeks at a time when the sporting world is desperate for some light at the end of the tunnel.

Local Tennis Leagues is already a successful  programme organising friendly and competitive tennis for thousands across Britain, focusing on public courts. It has been open for business again since the end of last week and the LTA say taking it over is a part of a wider strategy to get more people playing the game in parks across the UK.

Scott Lloyd, Chief Executive at the LTA said: “Our acquisition of Local Tennis Leagues, with the success it has already achieved in building a broad base of players and connections to local tennis organisations, aligns perfectly with our ongoing work to make tennis more accessible and open the sport up to new audiences. 

“We know that offering local, fun and social competitive opportunities like those provided by Local Tennis Leagues at grass roots level, is a great way to encourage people to play more regularly. More broadly, we want to get more people playing on park courts, which provide a fantastic opportunity for people to get involved in tennis in their local community.”

Tennis is, of course, the sport where Sportside started its journey, when our founder Xan was stuck abroad and desperate for someone to play a game with. And the sport remains at the heart of Sportside.

It is perfect for the app’s promise to help you ‘meet your match’. Like golf, it is a sport with a healthy number of operational clubs in the country, but has never been able to maintain a significant number of ‘pay-and-play’ participants.

By taking on Local Tennis Leagues, the LTA may just be able to change that.

Like many sports, tennis has suffered through the cancellation of multiple professional tournaments because of coronavirus – but the upcoming exhibition tournaments for Britain’s top men and women players is another welcome piece of good news for the sport in Britain at a critical moment in its history.

The brainchild of Jamie Murray, the Schroders Challenge will pit the eight best British men against one another over a week of competition played out at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

The ‘Battle of the Brits’ will be screened on Amazon Prime in the UK from June 23-28 and feature both Murray brothers, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund in singles and doubles.

As well as providing some much needed action for sports fans the event will also raise a minimum of £100,000 for NHS Charities Together. What is more, it will give sports fans – and even those who regard themselves as proper tennis fans – the chance to really get to know the best of British tennis in a way they never have before.

The Murrays are very familiar with the majority of the British public now because of their incredible success at the very top of the game – but Evans and Edmund are less well known and the others in the top eight less so again. 

Fleeting glimpses at Wimbledon once a year when a Brit may reach the second, third or even fourth round of the Championships are about the strength of it. The tournament at the end of June, gives spectators (albeit TV ones) the opportunity to really get to know these players – and for them to build up meaningful rivalries with their British opponents.

The Battle of the Brits will be swiftly followed by the first swing of four new British Tour events in July – all at the LTA National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

Jamie Murray said of the Battle of the Brits last week:  “We see this event as our way of giving back. A lot of work has gone in to make sure this could happen and we are very excited to be able to bring an action packed week of tennis, while raising valuable funds for NHS heroes to say thank you for the amazing work they have done.

 “I’m really excited to be putting on Schroders Battle of the Brits and for the first time bringing together the current generation of British male players to compete against one another while raising significant funds for charity. 

LTA Chief Executive Lloyd added: “The LTA is excited about events like this inspiring fans to get involved in our sport and pick up a racket.”

There was further good news for the women’s game when it was announced that an exhibition tournament for Britain’s women – the Progress Tour Women’s Championships – would also be played at Roehampton from July 13 for a week. This is another event that the LTA has approved and the plan is to involve 16 players – and eight doubles teams. British No3 Harriet Dart is already confirmed to play and it is hoped Heather Watson will also use the tournament as a useful warm-up for the US Open, which is looking increasingly likely to go ahead at the end of August.

There may be no Wimbledon to savour this summer but it could yet prove to be the most pivotal one for the LTA in its recent history.

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