Future tennis stars as young as three are helping rebuild the future of British tennis thanks to the Portsmouth Tennis Academy.
Youngsters can join the ‘mini blue’ programme and learn the basics of the sport as the centre continues to make its name as one of the country’s leading developers of talent.
Despite the economic downturn, the Burnaby Road-based Academy has seen a rise in the number of players signing up to their coaching programme.
And head coach Kevin Baker sees a bright future for tennis in the city.
He said: ‘I would think Portsmouth is as good an academy as anywhere in the country.
‘I see a very bright future with more children playing more tennis. As a coach, I’m expecting the next 10 years to be my best.
‘We have a major problem in this country with tennis – take Andy Murray out the equation and we have no-one.
‘One of the main reasons was right down at the bottom. The grass-roots of this sport was pretty much non-existent.
‘We’ve got so many good seven, eight, nine-year-olds playing all around Britain now. It’s made a massive difference to the sport in this country.’
Portsmouth Indoor Tennis Centre – where the Academy is based – boasts four acrylic indoor courts made to specifications of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).
And LTA chief executive Roger Draper is a big fan, previously describing the centre as ‘the ideal role model for tennis’.
Baker said: ‘Roger introduced the mini concept across the country and it’s booming.
‘Because we’ve got so many kids coming in who are really young, we’ve introduced mini blue so we have children from the age of three on the mini courts.
‘Claire Overton deals with that and she’s doing a fantastic job.
‘The colours represent age categories and vary the size of the court and the type of ball used.
‘What we’ve managed to do here is build a great young coaching team – Ollie Barnes, Claire, Josh Barrett, Jack Conway and Lauren Wood – they’ve all come through our programme.
‘They’ve all done a great job and the results are evident. This year we won Hampshire & IOW mini-reds division one and two.’
As well as coaching players at the Centre, which Baker says is ‘ready for an upgrade’, the Academy conducts community projects such as the School Roadshow Scheme, based on the Cliff Richard Tennis Trail, which was first brought to the city by Baker himself.
He said: ‘We run a very, very successful mini programme here with more than 100 under-10s and that is what we’ve been working and building on.
‘Now we run a schools roadshow throughout the city. We send out one of our senior coaching team, on a very flexible session where we’ll normally see the school for three or four weeks.
‘When we visit, we always give a free voucher for a Saturday morning here at the Academy so the children can get involved with the coaches and other kids.’
For more on the Academy, including the School Roadshow Scheme, call the Academy’s office on (023) 9273 0082.