Major plans unveiled to bring spirit of Wimbledon to Southsea

From left, Betty Corbett, Molly Ball and John Cooke

From left, Betty Corbett, Molly Ball and John Cooke

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  • Plans unveiled to bring touch of Wimbledon to Canoe Lake tennis courts
  • Community investors seek to improve grass courts with view to hosting professional tournaments
  • Portsmouth culture and leisure boss says it will help get kids into sport
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A MULTIMILLION-POUND deal to bring the tennis stars of the future to Portsmouth has been revealed.

The entrepreneurs in charge of grass courts near Canoe Lake in Southsea are ploughing their own money into a major revamp so players can compete in professional competitions.

Down the road, we could see the Federers of the future coming through, especially if the Futures tournaments are held here. That’s the place where you will see them.

Brad Baker, general manager of Portsmouth Tennis Academy

The project has received the backing of the Lawn Tennis Association and the sport’s official governing body has drafted in Wimbledon’s groundsman to advise how the 12 courts can be brought up to scratch for high-level contests.

It comes as Wimbledon fever sweeps the nation and a push is on to take sport in the city to the next level.

John Cooke, of Canoe Lake Leisure, which operates the Southsea courts, hopes they will host county cup matches by August next year.

And eventually he wants the scheme to attract the first stage of the Futures tournaments – events for professional athletes on the International Tennis Federation professional circuit.

The public would still be able to use the courts, which tennis leaders say would make it the only place in England where tournament-standard courts are open to all.

Mr Cooke said: ‘In August and September we are going to laser-level the grass courts so they are to international standards. This is going to be unique in Britain. What’s unique about it is having high quality courts open to the public.

‘Anyone can come down and pay £3 to use the court, and then it will have international players using them.

‘It’s going to be a huge commotion in terms of residents in the city coming to Canoe Lake to play on the same courts as professional tennis players.’

CLL has already spent £1m upgrading its grass courts, and four artificial ones it runs and set up a new cafe.

Another £1m will be poured into the creation of a new pavilion with a gym and space for aerobics and yoga. Two hard courts will be refurbished.

Millions more could be generated for the economy through attracting top tennis players.

Brad Baker, general manager of Portsmouth Tennis Academy, which provides coaching at the CLL courts on a junior and adult level, said the upgrade could bring the Roger Federers of the future to Portsmouth.

He said: ‘As it stands, we have already got more facilities and tennis courts then most places. It’s not like we necessarily need more courts, but it’s the fact we will have grass courts at that level – that’s the wow factor part.

‘Down the road, we could see the Federers of the future coming through, especially if the Futures tournaments are held here. That’s the place where you will see them.’

Mr Cooke, one of three directors for CLL, which runs the courts on behalf of the city council, said: ‘This is a multi-million-pound self-funded project, and we’re only at phase one.

‘We are saving the council £60,000 a year for the maintenance of this area and over the course of our 25-year lease, saving it £2m.’

He added: ‘The LTA is very confident these courts will be among two or three of the best tennis facilities in the south of England.’

Portsmouth’s Tory culture, leisure and sport boss, Councillor Linda Symes, welcomed the plans.

She said: ‘Fantastic things have been achieved down there.

‘This will ensure we go back to holding tournaments like before.

‘The courts already have big membership and have only been only for two months (under CLL).

‘We need to give youngsters a reason to get into the support. What we have got to do is get kids off their computers and game pads and onto the streets playing football, cricket and other activities.

‘We know we have a lot of obese children and they don’t get enough exercise.’

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