For the next few weeks, the sound of racquets thwacking yellow balls and the aroma of barley water will be everywhere.
It’s that time again, when we root for Grand Slam and Davis Cup hero Andy Murray and baulk at the cost of fresh strawberries. But it’s not all about Wimbledon. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is on a mission to get more people playing tennis so it has extended the grass court season. It all kicked off in perfect conditions over the May Bank Holiday weekend with the Aegon Manchester Trophy tennis tournament at The Northern Lawn Tennis Club in Didsbury, to be followed by events in Surbiton and Ilkley.
Tournament director for Aegon Manchester Richard Joyner explains the thinking behind it to Northern Soul.
“There’s a real drive between the LTA and the All England Club to maximise grass court opportunities for the players and spectators ahead of Wimbledon. This is why the world famous tournament now starts a week later than usual in order to fit an extra seven days into the grass court circuit. One of the major objectives for these pre-Wimbledon tournaments is to drive participation and interest in the sport so it’s not just a fad for a couple of weeks each year. We operate a legacy programme during these events that centres around participation in order to engage and inspire people to play the whole year round.”
Tennis is still not a priority on the school PE curriculum. Combine this with the erratic British weather limiting the window of opportunity to participate, plus the misconception of the sport as a middle to upper class activity and it seems like Aegon (a global financial services firm) and Joyner might have their work cut out.
“Part of what Manchester and the participation strategy is about is going into non-traditional tennis backgrounds in schools and parks and breaking down those barriers” says Joyner. “We’re trying to open up the sport, make it more appealing and banish that suburban image it’s always had. Investment in outdoor courts is also important so new talent can be inspired beyond the Wimbledon fortnight.
“We’re lucky that this year’s season has begun in the school holidays. It means we’ve been able to set up a junior campus, ‘come and try it out’ schemes and local tennis leagues – all very much participation orientated. There are also lots of opportunities for adults to play, maybe even for the first time. Our legacy programme is for any age and is as important a part of this opening tournament as the big matches. We’re delighted that we’ve got such a strong contingent of British and international players competing for people to cheer on and enjoy a great day out watching at a club which has often been affectionately referred to as ‘the Wimbledon of the North.'”
Many top players have graced The Northern‘s courts over the years including Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanišević and the legendary Fred Perry. This year there are several up and coming players from the North West to look out for including Liverpool-based doubles pair Ken and Neal Skupski (the number two seeds) and Stockport’s Liam Broady.
Manchester City fan Broady became a crowd favourite at Wimbledon last year after coming from two sets down to beat Marinko Matošević on his main draw debut at the championships. He trains at the Northern Club alongside his sister Naomi who is British number three and climbing up the women’s rankings.
Before the tournament, Broady said: “Last year was my first year playing a pro tournament at The Northern. It was a special experience for me because as a boy I can remember going to watch the challenger and being amazed at the standard. It puts a nice perspective on how far I have come since then. It’s also great to be able to have my close friends and family come and watch me in action. The grass courts here are as good as you will find anywhere. It’s a pleasure to play at the club and every player in the tournament agrees.”
Sadly, Broady was knocked out by the defending champion Sam Groth earlier this week. But he’ll be back.
Where: Palatine Rd, Didsbury, Manchester
When: until June 5, 2016
For more info click here