It has certainly been a summer of contrasting headlines for those of us involved in tennis in Wales.
Just days after Andy Murray’s historic and inspiring win at Wimbledon, we learned that Virgin Active would be withdrawing from running the national tennis centre in Cardiff.
On the face of it, it seemed to be dreadful news. Journalists came to me, wanting to know how Wales could ever hope to produce our own champions without such a facility in the capital? And if Virgin Active could not (or did not want to) run the centre, how would anyone else manage?
The questions were understandable, and coming at a time when tennis was in the national spotlight, the concern was bordering on gloom.
In reality, it has been a truly successful summer for tennis in Cardiff, with more than 2,000 people so far joining our ‘Tennis with a DIFF’ initiative – experiencing new forms of accessible tennis at surprising venues around the city, from The Hayes to the Barrage.
The Virgin Active announcement was certainly a shock, but theirs was probably not the ideal business model for maximising tennis participation in this particular situation.
Public money and funds from the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) went into setting up the centre in Ocean Way for public tennis, and this now presents a real opportunity for a new operator to be brought in who will focus on accessible tennis for the whole community and help us in our mission to double levels of tennis participation across Wales.
We are already making great progress in changing people’s perceptions about tennis, as Tennis with a DIFF shows.
You don’t need to be super-fit and powerful like a Wimbledon champion to enjoy tennis. You don’t need expensive equipment either – or even a set of whites.
Gone are the days when tennis meant having to play a three-set match. Many of us don’t have time for that – or the stamina!
That’s why Tennis Wales joined up with the LTA to launch Tennis with a DIFF – to change the face of tennis in Wales, starting in Cardiff.
We have run open sessions in shopping centres and car parks to show you can play tennis almost anywhere, and in a whole range of formats that suit people of all ages and all abilities.
The programme includes touchtennis, with a small racquet and sponge ball, played on a badminton court, where a light touch counts for more than a fast serve.
For those who are busy, there is timed tennis, where a match can be over in four minutes; and for children, mini tennis provides a fun introduction to the game, from the age of three.
When people become aware of these formats of tennis, they soon realise that the image of tennis as an expensive and elitist sport is just a myth.
The average junior club membership in Wales is about 80p per week and adults about £3 per week, so it really is one of the most affordable sports to take part in.
So, who should run the national tennis centre? Cardiff Council will make their assessments as to how the centre can best be run and by whom, but at Tennis Wales we are keen that the emphasis is on accessible and affordable tennis for the community, whether that is by a private sector company or by a volunteer-led trust.
Wales already has a major success story in Swansea Tennis Centre, which Swansea Council closed in 2011, due to lack of people using the facilities.
Tennis Wales and the LTA worked with and supported a group of volunteers to form a Trust group, TS365, which Swansea Council allowed to re-open the centre and take over the running.
Two years later the centre is absolutely booming, with more than 600 players signed up to play and the Swansea Centre is seen as a model of best practice for the rest of British tennis.
So the success in Swansea can hopefully be seen as something that could be replicated in the capital. If so, we will certainly do everything we can to help make that happen.
Recent research by the LTA shows that there are a huge number of people in Wales and the UK who would like to play tennis if they had the opportunity and it was presented in the right way.
Cardiff was identified as priority area to boost participation, which is why Tennis with a DIFF came about. Initiatives like this and the success of the Swansea centre show that tennis really is changing for the better in Wales.
Across Wales, in the last three years, the number of junior club members has nearly doubled, as has the number of juniors playing in tennis competitions, and the number of teams from primary schools entering the annual schools team competition.
Hopefully we can build on this progress by ensuring we have a national centre in Cardiff which provides accessible, affordable tennis for everyone.
A version of this article appeared in the Western Mail on 2nd August 2013.
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Photography by Mark Hawkins Photography.