It’s the time of year when the sun hopefully makes an appearance and the nation’s eyes are cast on the hallowed lawns of SW19.
For many it evokes yearnings for strawberries and cream, Pimm’s, champagne (if you can afford it), summer fruit squash and lazy days in front of the television watching the seemingly round-the-clock coverage of every happening at Wimbledon.
Just watching Andy Murray hit one of his silky drop shots is enough to make many of us rummage through the store cupboard and dust off that moth-eaten tennis racket.
Wherever you go for the next couple of weeks, the courts will be packed with people of all ages perfecting their forehands, backhands and volleys and negotiating the co-ordination conundrum that is the tennis serve.
You may hear the odd grunt and groan as players try to emulate their heroes. The Portsmouth area will be no different to anywhere else as finding a free court of an evening will be a mighty task for the next fortnight.
The challenge for the tennis clubs is to keep that buzz going for the rest of the year.
Fortunately, Portsmouth and the surrounding areas have some of the best tennis facilities in the country – and more people are getting to hear about it and taking up the game.
At Portsmouth Tennis Academy on a sunny day, the bright blue and green carpet courts are warm underfoot and look very inviting.
‘This year we’ve seen a lot more people,’ says Kevin Baker, 53, director of the centre.
‘There’s been more money put into courts over the past couple of years by the governing body.
It’s not just a summer sport any more.
‘They have marketed it better and a lot more people understand about the different facilities around the city.
‘In 24 years, this is the first time we’ve seen an increase. Normally here it’s in September when the weather gets worse and people can’t play outdoors.’
He adds: ‘Portsmouth is doing unbelievably well for tennis facilities. There are 11 indoor courts in the city.’
But he admits there is a large section of the adult population who have never played before and perhaps believe they are too old to take up the sport as a year-round hobby.
Yet, for any tennis fan, the next two weeks are to be savoured.
Finally a racket sport does not play second fiddle to more mainstream sports such as football.
‘If you drive along by the grass courts at Canoe Lake for the next few weeks, if the weather is good they will be packed,’ says Kevin, who divides his time between Southsea and Florida, where his 13-year-old son Blu is training to hopefully become a professional.
‘Every evening they are full up.
‘I guess it’s the same as golf – when the golf is on, everyone is hitting the golf course.
‘The television makes a big difference, having Wimbledon on. It’s on the telly, on the radio, in newspapers, everywhere.’
Over in Havant, The Avenue Lawn Tennis and Squash Club is gearing up for its busiest time of the year.
Fifty pairs of tickets have been available in the annual club Wimbledon ballot and the lucky winners are excited about being just a few feet away from the action – and, if they are really lucky, on Centre Court.
The club could not be more picturesque as players duck and dive on the bouncy grass courts.
For anyone watching on the sidelines the game has an almost hypnotising effect as spectators – drinking a lemonade or something stronger – watch the ball endlessly shoot from side to side, with that familiar ‘ping’ as it rifles off the racket strings.
After a day’s play here, players tend to congregate around the television in the bar to watch Wimbledon.
Justine Brown, who works at The Avenue and plays tennis when she has time in her busy schedule, says: ‘People get really excited. It’s good fun.
‘Wimbledon brings tennis back to people’s minds. Many people don’t follow tennis all year round.
‘We pick up members that watch it and think “let’s have a go”. We are lucky with the grass courts we have here.
‘It’s very different to playing on hard courts. It’s a lovely experience. It’s much more gentle on the body.’
Kate Guyver, 40, from Hayling Island, plays three times a week at The Avenue and loves this time of the year.
‘It’s great that loads of people get enthused and to see more people on the courts,’ she says.
‘Down at the tennis centres and clubs, there’s a really happy vibe.
‘People are inspired by what they see on the television.’
Of course, there will be those who hit the courts in the coming weeks for a gentle family knockabout, and those who treat tennis almost like a boxing match as friendships are tested on the court in the pursuit of victory.
The ‘Andy Murray’ effect has certainly had an influence in getting mums, dads and children to head to the racket section of sports shops and hit the courts,
Brad Baker, 21, general manager at Portsmouth Tennis Academy, who juggles his love of tennis with recording music, says: ‘When Andy won Wimbledon, everyone in the country had been waiting for it to happen.
‘The numbers shoot through the roof when Wimbledon is on anyway, but the fact he won, we saw a huge increase.
‘We had summer camps here and we saw 85 kids on one day.’
Gone are the elitist days of tennis, with old-fashioned rules of white apparel and well-heeled types getting first choice of the best courts.
Tennis is now a sport for all and is a way of life for many, where children start as young as two and pensioners play into their 80s and 90s, all the while perfecting their strokes and experiencing the highs and lows of wins and losses.
And once you have the tennis bug, it’s hard to shake off.
‘If you’ve played tennis, you fall in love with it,’ says Brad.
Local tennis clubs at-a-glance
Portsmouth Tennis Academy, Burnaby Road, Portsmouth, Tel: (023) 9283 0736.
Four indoor courts with a further three outdoor, floodlit astroturf courts.
Indoor courts are £18 an hour at peak times, £12 for off-peak, with discounts available for Royal Navy and over-50s.
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Portsmouth Tennis Centre, Alex Way, Portsmouth Tel: (023) 9266 0589
Six outdoor floodlit hard courts and four indoor courts.
Prices are £18.80 per hour for indoor courts and £6 for outdoor at peak times. Off-peak rates are £13 for indoor and £4 for outdoor, plus an extra £4 for floodlights.
Community Sports Centre, Fawcett Road, Southsea. Tel: (023) 9286 3035
Three indoor courts.
Prices are £18 per hour at peak times and £13 for off-peak.
Canoe Lake, St Helens Parade, Southsea
Four new artifical grass courts, two hard courts, and 12 grass courts.
Prices start at £3.50 for families and under 18s, and £5.50 for adults, per court per hour.
Milton Park, Milton Road, Milton, Portsmouth.
Four hard courts to use on a first come, first served basis. Free to use.
Southsea Tennis Club, Clarence Esplanade, Southsea. Tel: (023) 9282 4693.
A large range of hard courts and grass courts are available.
Non-members: £5.50/hour (summer); £2.70/hour (winter).
Juniors, seniors, students: £3.50/hour
The Avenue Lawn Tennis & Squash Club, Southleigh Road, Warblington, Havant. Tel: (023) 9248 2750.
Ten grass courts and seven hard courts, including four artificial grass.
Full club adult membership for tennis is £310 a year, with lower prices for under-25s at £116, £66 for under-16s and £35 for under-10s.
Lee-on-the-Solent Tennis Squash & Fitness Club, 41-47 Manor Way, Lee-on-the-Solent. Tel: (023) 9255 0381.
Six all-weather courts.
Flexible memberships prices with reduced rates for families, students, juniors and young adults. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warsash Tennis Club, Recreation Ground, Osborne Road, Warsash.
Four floodlit all-weather hard courts.
Non-members pay £2.50 per court per hour per non-member.
Most facilities offer coaching sessions for all levels.
Anyone interested in playing competitive singles can join Portsmouth Tennis League. See localtennisleagues.com/portsmouth.