Kevin Baker believes Portsmouth now has everything in place to be one of the leading lights in British tennis.
The Portsmouth Tennis Academy director was one of the proudest men in the city on Friday after the official reopening of the Indoor Tennis Centre.
The Burnaby Road-based site has undergone a £600,000 makeover in a joint-project between the Academy and Royal Navy, officially making it the number one tennis facility in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Included in the centre’s facelift are four repainted courts, new lighting, revamped changing rooms and office area, and a new ‘skin’ which covers the building.
The navy’s five adjacent outdoor grass courts have also been upgraded, three of them given artificial turf and floodlights.
Baker has made great strides in recent years to make tennis more accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds but was held back by the facilities previously on offer in Portsmouth.
The head coach of the Portsmouth Tennis Association feels the new-look centre means that is no longer a problem, however.
And with the facility open for use to the public, as well as navy personnel, he is looking forward to seeing the sport grow even further in the next few years.
Baker said: ‘It’s totally different here now. The whole environment and atmosphere of the place has changed.
‘We are not run by the council any longer. Me and the navy have put in all the money for the project and it’s so rewarding to see people come in and say “wow”.
‘We needed a new facility four years ago as we were bursting out of the seams even back then.
‘There are about 10 high-performances centres in the country, which are the really big bases for tennis.
‘But behind them, we can be the ones to look up to. We’re now the number-one satellite centre in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
‘With this facility behind us, we’re no longer being held back and can strive to move ahead.
‘This is the place to be.’
Baker praised the navy’s role in getting behind the project, with the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, and Second Sea Lord, Vice-Admiral David Steel, officially reopening the centre on Friday.
And with top-class facilities now in place, Baker has already made plans for his Academy to expand.
‘The navy are as keen as I am to push tennis on in the city,’ he said.
‘We now have plans for more schools’ roadshows and already have disability and adults programmes in place and much more.
‘This is not a club. It’s an open tennis facility. That’s always been my aim – to make the sport accessible for everyone.
‘With the council no longer part of this, I am operating the programme how I want to.
‘As far as what we can now achieve, it’s definitely game on.’