Tennis: Davis Cup success can inspire next generation in Sheffield

Great Britain's captain Leon Smith lifts the trophy alongside (l-r) Jamie Murray, James Ward, Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund during day three of the Davis Cup Final at the Flanders Expo Centre, Ghent.
Great Britain's captain Leon Smith lifts the trophy alongside (l-r) Jamie Murray, James Ward, Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund during day three of the Davis Cup Final at the Flanders Expo Centre, Ghent.
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It was incredible performance by the Great Britain Davis Cup team last weekend in Belgium, with Andy Murray leading the side to its first victory in the competition since 1936.

As the dust settles following the victory, British Tennis is now striving to capitalise on that success and inspire the next generation of players in the sport.

Tennis in Sheffield is well placed take advantage of the historic Davis Cup win. The year of 2015 has been one of significant progress in the city, broadening the opportunities for people to take part in this great sport.

The summer saw the launch of a partnership in the city that has taken the first tentative steps towards regenerating tennis in some of the great parks in Sheffield. Parks tennis had seemed to be in a state of terminal decline, with run-down facilities crying out for investment.

But following the formation of a partnership between Sheffield City Council and the Lawn Tennis Association, there is now hope for a more positive future for tennis in the city’s parks.

Premier Tennis, a specialist parks operator, and Places for People, the new operator at Graves Tennis Centre and North Active, joined the partnership and the Sheffield Summer of Tennis was launched in June, when LTA Chief Executive Michael Downey visited the city. The programme saw the establishment of an online booking system at six parks across the city, allowing the public to reserve their court in advance for the first time, and free of charge at four of the six sites. It also saw the establishing of a programme of tennis coaching and social tennis sessions at the parks, providing affordable and high quality tennis activity for all the family.

In addition, there was investment in facilities funded jointly by the City Council and the LTA. The four courts at Hillsborough were deep cleaned and re-painted and the courts at High Hazel’s park saw a full refurbishment, creating three new courts and two mini tennis courts.

The response to the programme has been eye-opening. There were over 5,700 individual online court bookings from mid-June until the end of September, and there were over 500 attendances on the coaching programme. Over 1,000 different people booked a court or coaching, and a total of 14,726 participation sessions are estimated across the programme. In the current climate of declining levels of participation in sport, that’s tremendously encouraging.

The programme doesn’t stop there, though. Coaching and social tennis sessions will continue throughout the winter at Hillsborough and Weston parks, with more details available at parkstennis.co.uk.

There have been some key learning from the programme and the four organisations that comprise the partnership are currently undertaking a review and planning for next year. A new programme will be re-launched in the spring and it is hoped that there may be additional investment in parks tennis facilities. The challenge is ensuring that the programme is sustainable but the signs so far are very encouraging.

However, the parks programme isn’t the only good news story in Sheffield tennis. The £16million redevelopment of Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre has continued apace, and is now six months in with 10 to go before the new facility opens in August 2016. A new team has been put in place this summer, with Alasdair Ford coming in as Sports Manager and Sam Salt taking up the role of Head Tennis Coach to drive the tennis programme forwards.

Hallamshire Tennis Club continues to do an outstanding job in Sheffield, with its programmes ably led by Dave Marray and Jason Torpey. Beauchief TC has also recently been awarded £62,150 by Sport England to install floodlights and a practice wall, subject to planning permission.

Paul Sheard, the LTA’s regional tennis participation manager, said: “It’s been hugely encouraging to see the positive strides forward that have been made in tennis in Sheffield this year.

“The parks programme is being nationally recognised for providing a new and innovative way of regenerating parks tennis in a major city.

“With the redevelopment of Graves and some of the outstanding work that is being done in the clubs, it’s really exciting times for Sheffield tennis.”