A month on from her astonishing US Open triumph, Britain’s Emma Raducanu takes to the court again in Indian Wells this weekend, and it is exciting for all at Sportside to see just how the tennis landscape has changed in such a short space of time.
The government and the Lawn Tennis Association have promised to refurbish more than 4,500 public tennis courts in the UK’s most disadvantaged areas and announced a £30 million package to help a new generation of players participate in the sport.
The package will revive courts in poor or unplayable conditions at more than 1,500 venues, with the government investing £21.9m and the LTA £8.4m.
Around 1.7million adults play tennis in a local park every year, and park tennis courts are crucial in providing affordable, engaging and accessible opportunities for more female players and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as being the most popular venue for women to play after they have left education, the LTA reports on its website lta.org.uk.
“Whilst the popularity of the sport is flourishing, with yearly tennis participation growing 8% last year despite the long periods of lockdown, there are many areas of the country where park courts remain dilapidated and unappealing,” its report reads.
“Currently across England, Wales and Scotland around 45% of park courts are categorised as being in poor, very poor or unplayable condition, preventing many from picking up a racket and getting active. Critically, half of unplayable venues are in the most socially deprived areas of the country.”
Scott Lloyd, Chief Executive of the LTA, said: “This programme will be transformational for public tennis facilities in Britain. Alongside the money that the LTA is putting in this additional Government investment will allow us to repair and refurbish dilapidated park courts across the country. We are also committed to ensuring that any investment is supported by sustainable community tennis programmes, so courts see a real growth in usage and local authorities can continue to invest in their courts over the long term.”
Raducanu became the first British woman to win a Grand Slam Singles title since Virginia Wade in 1977 and the first qualifier to win the US Open which over 9 million people watched on terrestrial TV via Channel 4 and host broadcaster Amazon Prime.
Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett were also the first British pair to win the men’s wheelchair doubles final and complete the Grand Slam, with Joe Salisbury winning a “double double” in both men’s and mixed events.
Speaking at Indian Wells ahead of her first match back against world number 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Raducanu said it had been “pretty cool” to get congratulations from other players at Indian Wells, but that it was now time to get back to business.
The soon to be 19-year-old has a bye to the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in California as the 17th seed.
“It’s really nice,” she told the BBC. “All the players are very friendly. I’m still very new on the tour – so it’s pretty cool.
“But I haven’t really spent too much time hanging around. I’ve just been training and getting about my business, and then leaving.”
Since her US Open win, Raducanu has been in a whirlwind of public appearances and public events. She attended the Met Gala and the London premiere of the new James Bond film.
“It’s been a very cool three weeks,” she said. “I got to experience some great things that I probably never would have got to do before.”
While she is without a coach at her first tournament back, having not extended her coaching partnership with Andrew Richardson, Raducanu is being helped by former player Jeremy Bates at Indian Wells.
“Jeremy is part of women’s tennis at the LTA, so while he’s here, he’s helping me out,” Raducanu said.
“But going forwards, I’m just going to wait and try and find the right person. I’m not going to rush into anything. I want to make sure I make the right decision.
“I’m just looking for the general things in a coach, really. Someone you get along with well, and someone who can push you.”
The government has moved swiftly to capitalise on this recent sporting success and also announced that it will invest approximately £ 30 million annually to improve and open sports facilities in UK schools and improve physical education in primary schools.
It is all part of the government plan to help people from all backgrounds get active and raise the bar for sports availability across the UK. Official guidance from the Chief Healthcare Officer says children should be aiming for 60 minutes of physical activity per day and adults 2.5 hours of physical activity per week.