Mark Gillett

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Tennis Is Suffering – Its Being Challenged By The Fringe Sports

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I wrote last week about the state of British tennis mainly because its where I have been for most of my life. It seems to me, though, that tennis in general is suffering. In Germany clubs struggle, Berlin is not the hive of activity on the court it use to be. The US cannot produce players and haven’t since the Sampras/Agassi era in the mens game, which is quite some time back. The ladies are doing ok but clinging on to the Williams sisters who really won’t be around much longer. Australia, that once massive tennis nation is just a small player now on the world circuit and still look to old faces like Hewitt. France, Spain and Eastern Europe is where it seems to be right now but even in those countries there are problems.

My question is what has happened to those nations that once dominated? There are many theories you can read about if you just google the subject. The stance in the US is the centralised programme, lack of funds coming down to coaches and so on. In the UK everyone will blame someone else. Roger Draper took the brunt of this in recent years but under his leadership there was an awful lot of good happening. Perhaps just not radical enough and a bit of overspend! But then a political figure like Roger is never going to go the whole way. Now we have someone else to blame in 5 years time.. And I can’t even tell you who it is!! One area, however, with room for massive improvement is our parks.

Steve Riley of Willtowin offering public tennis with or without membership

Steve Riley of Willtowin offering public tennis with or without membership

Steve Riley of Willtowin is making major inroads in London but not without a battle against tradition.

I believe there is much more to it than simple blaming. In recent years I have been involved in many of the fringe sports. The new sexy ones that cost little and appeal to kids. They are riskier too and with branding such a big part of our lives, these sports have flourished and kids love them.

Parkour Egypt

Parkour is played all over the world. Here in Cairo everyone can afford it.

Take surfing. If you live near the coast in the UK – and there is a whole lot of it being an island – its easy to get started, very cool and costs very little. City kids can pick up Parkour, skate boarding and BMX all relatively cheaply and become local heroes in the process. With the rise of YouTube and channels like EpicTV, video shorts are being uploaded by the thousands daily, what do you think the kids watch and aspire to?? Its certainly not a few points of Nadal, Federer or Djokovic. More likely it will be some kid hanging off a crane in Russia, skateboard videos from LA, Barcelona or London, or some crazy biker in the Scottish Highlands getting 28m views. Others doing unbelievable jumps and downhills that make Evil Knievel look like a beginner. Well, I suppose he was really, he started something that RedBull have turned into a multi billion business.. Now take a look at the Barclays ATP Tour Finals youtube views. Nothing short of embarrassing with 70-120,000 for matches and 4 or 500 for interviews. For a world sport this should not be the case.

Even Ultra running is now sexy with some achieving feats never believed to be possible. Runners doing 100 mile races over mountains keeping sub 3hr marathon times throughout and others summiting  some of the toughest world peaks with nothing other than a water pack. Yoga is also now making inroads with the young and can be found in schools and cities everywhere

Yoga is inexpensive and all you need to take part is your body!

Yoga is inexpensive and all you need to take part is your body!

The answer to making tennis this sexy or appealing is tough. In some ways it just isn’t. I even pitched it to EpicTV but they just couldn’t go there. Somehow, though, it has to change and perhaps the only way is to introduce the concept of variations. Not in the core sport but to build on the easier more accessible possibilities like paddle tennis. In Venice Beach, this sport has grown massively along side the skate boarders, and bikers. It’s competitive, tough and sexy. And you can get more people playing on your real-estate so makes better business sense.

I would love to see tennis back where it should be. Its a truly beautiful sport that teaches us so much more in terms of life skills. And we need some of the young pure talent taking it up to ensure its survival through the generations. If we don’t we run the risk of tennis becoming that sport you take up in your retirement..

Written by markgillett

January 25, 2015 at 11:46 am

One Response

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  1. I agree and have been pushing touchtennis in parks and village halls for free for years.

    It’s slowly catching on.

    Rashid

    January 26, 2015 at 7:44 am


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