When the Baffins upstart took on and beat the toff

COMMENT: Bandstand event is a victim of its own success

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It’s a new dawn for tennis in the city today as former British number one and world number four Greg Rusedski officially opens the tennis centre at Alexandra Park.

More indoor facilities, more opportunities for youngsters (and oldsters) to get involved and play for fun and fitness – or maybe join the UK’s new tranche of tennis talent to take on the mantle from Andy Murray when he hangs up his racket.

Unbeknown to most, I’m a tennis champion.

In fact in a darkened council storeroom, the Junior Southsea Open trophy has my name emblazoned across it.

Few can forget that gloriously sunny day in 1989, on the grass courts a stone’s throw from Canoe Lake.

A young, be-quiffed upstart from Baffins Pond (who looked like he was wearing his mum’s white cardigan) taking on the toff, who had all the gear but no idea.

The annals of sporting history were written and the glory was taken by the self-taught belligerent Baffins boy, taking home the trophy and an Allders voucher for £7.

At that stage indoor courts were mythical creatures. We’d heard they existed in distant lands, but the nearest we ever got to playing indoors was the swingball in my mate’s shed.

For some reason in the ’80s we were constantly on the run from the park-keeper too – he’d hunt you down like a rotten fugitive for your court fees of £1.20.

Quickly scurrying under a broken fence, commando crawling through dog muck was fair game to save the money for two litres of ‘No Natural Ingredients Guaranteed’ Happy Shopper Cherryade on the way home.

Those character-building days are long gone now. Youngsters are welcomed to make the most of the city’s three indoor facilities. Coaching programmes for children and their schools mean that everybody is given a chance to at least try the game.

For those that enjoy it, there is plenty of opportunity to take it further.

Hats off to the Lawn Tennis Association and Portsmouth City Council – and if Rusedski can’t make it, you’ve got my number...