Why Portsmouth area can 'ride the wave’ of increased interest in tennis following Emma Raducanu’s sensational US Open victory

The Portsmouth area is an ‘amazing’ place for anyone inspired by Emma Raducanu’s fairytale victory in the US Open.

Tuesday, 14th September 2021, 3:01 pm
Emma Raducanu celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2021 US Open. Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images.

That’s the view of Hampshire LTA chair Richard Cutler as tennis prepares to welcome a new legion of players thanks to an 18-year-old writing one of world sport’s most remarakble stories.

Raducanu’s success in winning the women’s singles in New York - the first qualifier ever to win a Grand Slam, and without dropping a set - has ensured tennis has remained on the front pages of the national papers like never before.

Not even Andy Murray’s Wimbledon success in 2013 can match the scale of Raducana’s extraordinary achievement which is - in my humble opinion - the greatest British sporting feat of all time.

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'Thriving' - Avenue and Chichester ladies' masters teams line up before a Portsmouth & District League match. From left: Suzanne Troy, Debbie Draper, Ileana Melendez, Debbie Berry, Debbie Wigmore, Tracy Manvell, Jackie Edney and Heather Halliday.

And thanks to a seven-figure investment by the Lawn Tennis Association in the last decade, anyone wanting to pick up a racket and attempt some Raducana-type forehands of their own can find all the facilities they need in the PO postcode region.

Portsmouth was one of a handful of cities - Liverpool and Bristol were also chosen - selected by the governing body for a ‘significant’ cash injection to improve facilities at all levels.

They ranged from refurbishment of municipal ‘parks’ courts - such as ones at Milton Park, Leigh Park, Emsworth and Hayling - to ensuring schools had access to tennis courses, to building a new 10-court Portsmouth Tennis Centre at the Mountbatten Centre.

Among the individual grants, £70,000 went on improving five courts at Milton Park while the Southsea Tennis Club were awarded £30,000.

Tournament tennis at Canoe Lake (now Court X), Southsea, in 2018. Picture: Neil Marshall

‘It was easily a seven-figure sum spent on the Portsmouth area,’ said Richard Cutler, the chair of the Hampshire LTA. ‘It was very much a holistic project - park courts, school courts, indoor courts, a great sweep of options.

‘The LTA obviously did some analysis of places with potential. Southampton is crying out for something similar, but they would have to build the courts - the Portsmouth area already had a stock of courts.

‘The parks courts were refreshed - they’re not like the gravelly courts I was used to when I was younger - and they’re free to use.

‘If there’s a place that’s made for riding the wave created by Emma’s win, Portsmouth is it.

Players and LTA and Portsmouth City Council officials after the courts at Milton Park, Portsmouth, were upgraded in 2017.

‘It’s amazing what there is.’

There has also been big money spent on other tennis facilities on Portsea Island. Down at Burnaby Road, next to HMS Temeraire, a £600,000 donation from the Royal Navy led to a dome being built at the Portsmouth Tennis Academy. A £250,000 investment from Academy owners Kevin and Tessa Baker ensured further improvements could be made.

‘I know there’s been investment in the facilities at what was Canoe Lake - now Court X - and the Portsmouth Tennis Academy,’ said Cutler.

‘There’s probably been around £5m of investment in Portsmouth tennis facilities over the last five to 10 years.

Kevin Baker, Director of Portsmouth Tennis Academy, inside the dome on Burnaby Road. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Emma started out at a club, then she progressed to an indoor centre - she needed those facilities to go on her journey. Portsmouth has got all that.

‘The Avenue club (in Havant) and Court X can host County Week events - basically, the most glamorous non-professional tournament in the country. Andy Murray has played in it.

‘That means youngsters in this area can go and watch top amateurs play. That’s amazing - everything is here (in the Portsmouth area) to take advantage.’

Though most state schools in the region don’t possess their own courts, Cutler said there are still numerous chances for youngsters to play.

‘The (five cities) project ensured that schools were linked up, Court X has a good relationship with schools, the Portsmouth Tennis Centre does good work with schools.

‘I know Ashley Neaves, the 2018 British Coach of the Year, does a lot of work with schools.

‘I also don’t think we should forget the opportunities open to adults to play.

‘You’re going to see adults inspired by Emma’s win wanting to take up tennis as well.

‘And adults have children and grandchildren and they might inspire them to play.

‘The Portsmouth Leagues are thriving - they have encouraged participation and give ‘normal’ players the chance to play doubles every week.

‘There are a lot of cities that would be very jealous (of Portsmouth’s tennis facilities/opportunities) - not least the one down the road.’

Cutler added: ‘Emma’s win is a Godsend for us (the LTA), but the bigger Godsend would be if she carries on from here.

‘We’ve had momentum before - Andy Murray winning three Grand Slams, winning the Davis Cup - but never anything like this. People everywhere are talking about tennis.

‘I know it’s been said that Emma has gone from taking her A levels to winning the US Open in a few weeks, but that underplays the amount of hard work she’s put in.

‘It’s taken an unbelievable amount of hard work and an unbelievable amount of talent - not many people can combine the two.

‘It is a fairytale and like all good tales it takes a lot of writing.

‘It’s not a flash in the pan - Emma will have been playing high quality, international tournaments since she was 10 or 11.’

Cutler believes the LTA must now capitalise on tennis’ increased exposure.

‘We have the facilities, we have plenty of good people involved - it’s just a case of trying to raise the awareness of what’s out there.

‘There are six-week (introductory) courses for £30, you get a free racket - dozens of those have been held in Hampshire this summer.

‘We have to raise the awareness that tennis is an open, accessible sport for everyone.’