Tennis boss targets city success

The next generation of tennis lovers try out the brand new facilities at the new Portsmouth Tennis Centre Picture: Malcolm Wells
The next generation of tennis lovers try out the brand new facilities at the new Portsmouth Tennis Centre Picture: Malcolm Wells
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The new head of British tennis has targeted Portsmouth as the city where he expects to see the next Andy Murray make the breakthrough.

Michael Downey, the new LTA chief executive, was at the official opening of the Portsmouth Tennis Centre on Saturday.

He believes the facility can nurture the talent from grassroots level to produce players who can eventually challenge for the top events in the world.

Murray became the first male British Wimbledon champion for 77 years last summer – and his success will act as serious inspiration for youngsters interested in the sport and keen to follow in his footsteps.

Portsmouth’s new £1.2m facility, with four indoor courts, six outdoor courts and eight mini-tennis courts, is now open to the public.

But it now means the annual summer boost of interest can continue throughout the rest of the year, regardless of the weather.

Downey said: ‘For this country to develop the next Andy Murray, Laura Robson or Heather Watson, you need indoor facilities because kids have to be able to play year round – so this is a great addition to this community in that regard.

‘And I’m sure, when we look 10, 15, 20 years from now, there is going to be a great young star who comes out of this facility – and not just one, there will be many of them.

‘The opening of tennis centres is something we need more of in this country.

‘I’m honoured to be down here and this was a great partnership of Sport England, The Tennis Foundation, the LTA, Parkwood and, of course, the city of Portsmouth for making this available for the great citizens of Portsmouth.’

It was the 56-year-old’s first official engagement in his LTA post, having been appointed following his success at the head of Canadian tennis.

But Downey has held previous positions in charge of the Toronto Raptors basketball team and the Maple Leafs ice hockey team.

While he admits his expertise is not on a court, he is a shrewd administrator, with performance-related incentives high on his agenda.

And a key factor in his blueprint is to increase participation numbers in a sport which has often struggled to compete in recruiting youngsters to take the game up seriously.

‘Tennis is what we call a cradle to grave sport – you can play it throughout your entire life,’ said Downey.

‘Families that have young children can play mini-tennis here, adults can also play – it’s a family sport so I really think the natives of Portsmouth are going to realise they have got a real enhancement for their community and something that is great for family life.

‘The key thing about the investment is that you are investing it in bricks and mortar.

‘This is a facility that is going to be in this marketplace for an awful long time so it’s a great investment in that regard.

‘I think that the people of Portsmouth are going to enjoy coming here to not only play tennis but also to watch tennis.’