British stars and two of the biggest tennis organisations teamed up to deliver a free festival in Wimbledon Park yesterday.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) have introduced Middle Sunday. Opened Up. in a bid to drive participation in the sport.
The festival saw Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong and Great Britain Davis Cup captain Leon Smith provide youngsters with a taste of the kind of drills they run during a Fed Cup week.
Anne said: “We have to capitalise on everyone’s enthusiasm at this time of year when Wimbledon comes around.
“The summer is always a popular time for people to get out on court, but tennis isn’t just a summer sport, it’s something you can play all year round.”
She added: “Tennis is affordable at a recreational level and there are plenty of good initiatives going on like Tennis for Kids which can hopefully steer a lot of people in the right direction.”
Following the sport’s decline in female participation, the LTA is hoping the event will inspire young girls in particular to pick up their rackets.
The festival also included a range of activities including the LTA’s Tennis for Kids sessions which saw children as young as three take to the courts alongside professional British tennis stars Harriet Dart and Dominic Inglot.
Scott Lloyd, CEO of the LTA, said: “The LTA’s vision is to try and open up tennis to as many people as we can.
“The partnership we have with the AELTC is really thriving and we’re absolutely delighted with the gesture of support.”
He added: “We need to appeal to the widest possible fan base that we can, and the Wimbledon Championships gives us that incredible opportunity.”
Launched in 2016, the Tennis for Kids programme has so far seen 75,000 children participate, and by the end of 2019, the LTA is hoping this figure will rise to 100,000.
Reflecting on the recent success of Cori Gauff at Wimbledon, festival volunteer Liz Murphy from Lee Green said: “She’s only 15 and at around that age it’s so crucial because that’s when a lot of girls drop out of tennis due to peer pressure.
“There are a lot of negative things about women in sport, but even if you’re able to play at some level it’s a great thing to do and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t got a great serve or a brilliant forehand.
“As long as you get the ball over the net, that’s all that matters.”
There are 80 Tennis for Kids courses available across London this summer for children aged between 4 and 11 who may have little or no experience playing tennis.
For more information and to get involved visit: https://clubspark.lta.org.uk/tennisforkids