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Home / Latest News / Post-Wimbledon threat to National Tennis Centre serves up a disaster for the game in Wales

Post-Wimbledon threat to National Tennis Centre serves up a disaster for the game in Wales

While the entire country popped the champagne corks as Oor Andy (Murray) broke the 77-year hoodoo for a British male singles winner at Wimbledon, you could forgive one man for cursing his luck that the star was from Dunblane, and not Dolgellau.

If an “Andy ap Murray” had galvanised the Welsh public years earlier with his stellar Grand Slam runs, Tennis Wales chief executive Peter Drew may not have been tasked this week with the thankless job of trying emphasise positives despite the news the National Tennis Centre (NTC) in Cardiff was to close – just days after the historic win was finally sealed.

Apart from serving as a PR disaster for Welsh tennis, the threat to the centre must act as a massive, deafening siren on the state of the game in Wales.

Aside from Joshua Milton (ranked around 430), Wales has only 18-year-old Evan Hoyt to count among our top adult hopes at present.

It has no ranked senior women whatsoever. Only two – Sarah Loosemore and Rebecca Llewellyn – have reached a standard to get to a Grand Slam in the last three decades (and Llewellyn needed a wildcard for one appearance at Wimbledon).

Compared to the land of Murray, it’s a pretty lousy return for a country which shares one of the richest governing bodies in sport.

Scotland can boast Grand Slam champions in Andy and brother Jamie (the latter has a Wimbledon mixed doubles title), a Top 30 doubles player in Colin Fleming, and former Top 50 women’s player in Elena Baltacha. Oh, and a Commonwealth mixed doubles gold winner in Jocelyn Rae.

But how can it be that Wales – even with a population of three million – has such meagre fruits to show for its labours?

For a start, tennis is played by too few children.

It is dwarfed by the masses that dream to playing at the Millennium Stadium for Wales, or football in the Premier League, so an already-small base of potential players shrinks further as potential wunderkinds are siphoned off.

Wales’ famous sprawling hills don’t help either – clubs are spread out miles apart, with little transport infrastructure there to help people travel for competitions, and with too few organised clubs or junior programmes.

But the potential closure of the NTC can be laid mainly at the door of one aspect which is still plaguing the game – the cost of taking it up.

Tennis will always be an elitist sport while free courts disappear or fall into serious disrepair, while brand spanking new indoor centres have pricing structures that make it too expensive to play in.

The NTC is as impressive as impressive can be. Courts as far as the eye can see, heated/air-conditioned arenas with plush surroundings.

But indoor centres (with little subsidy) command hundreds of pounds of fees every year (for adults) if you are a member, while some courts cost the man on the street more than £20 an hour to play on if you are not.

While the identified creme-de-la-creme of juniors will not have to worry about the cost of playing at the likes of the NTC, there will never be a critical mass of players flocking while you need to pay anything approaching those sort of fees – and rank-and-file players will shy away for cheaper alternatives, meaning the income stream to sustain them dries up.

Those priced out of vast indoor centres don’t have much option for alternatives.

According to Tennis For Free, the campaign to increase the number of free public courts in the UK, there are none in the Cardiff council area – the most populated in all of Wales. Free courts that are available in Wales are often potholed, crumbling or, worst of all, padlocked shut.

In a nation where the benefit claimant count is much higher than other parts of the UK, suffering the worst economic malaise the country has seen in generations, the prospects of the Murray Effect inspiring hordes of children out on to the court seem as bleak as ever.

Even if, as most would hope, the NTC is taken on by another provider, the affordability of tennis will remain a massive barrier for many – if not most – in Wales.

When a kid can pick up a football, put a couple of jumpers down, and start playing with no more expense, why would you bother with tennis?

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