Emma Raducanu reacts to messages from the royal family
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The Lawn Tennis Association is hoping that Emma Raducanu’s incredible US Open victory will lead to a huge £20million government investment in grassroots tennis, Express Sport has been told. Interest in the sport has skyrocketed since the inexperienced 18-year-old stunned the tennis world by winning at Flushing Meadows.
Raducanu did not drop a single set in New York despite starting the tournament as a qualifier. Her sensational 6-4, 6-3 win in her showdown clash with Canada’s Leylah Fernandez was her 10th match over a gruelling three-week period.
The Bromley-based star became the first British woman to win a Grand Slam since Virginia Wade lifted the Wimbledon title in 1977.
Raducanu’s success has prompted a boom in tennis clubs receiving membership requests. However, Express Sport has been told that a huge 40 per cent of tennis courts on park sites are either unplayable or will be unplayable without significant investment.
£8.5m has been earmarked by the LTA to improve those sites but they need more money. Talks with the government had started before Raducanu’s success and the sport’s UK governing body is hoping to bask in her success by requesting an extra £20m.
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“About 1.7m people pick up a racket and play tennis in parks every year, which is about 40 per cent the number of people who play tennis. So a large volume of the people who play tennis do so in parks,” Olly Scadgell, the LTA’s participation director told Express Sport.
“What we know already is that when we make that journey from the park to the court easy and accessible for people to find, book and use a facility, then that demonstrably drives participation. We have a number of great case studies around the country where we have invested in the booking system and gate-access technology.
“We have seen participation increase significantly. What we’re looking to do now is to bring that across the country. We have about 1,700 park sites and about 5,000 courts in those park sites that we want to roll out this investment into.
“We also know that about 40 per cent of those park sites are unplayable or, if they don’t receive funding in the near future, they will be unplayable. We’ve identified £8.5m worth of grant investment to reinvigorate those park courts, and to put that booking and gate-access technology in to make that journey to the court easy.
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“But we need more. We have had some really positive conversations with the government and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for a further £20m to support that programme and to make those park courts sustainable for the long-term and for the communities in which they exist.
“Those conversations started a number of months ago and obviously before Emma’s success. What she has achieved over the last few weeks certainly helps when we ask. We know from our data that people who play in parks tend to be from a certain economic group and in terms of ethnic diversity.
“That’s really important because our vision is to open up tennis to many more people, regardless of their age, gender, ability or disability.”
Raducanu was not the UK’s only tennis success story earlier this month. Cam Norrie and Dan Evans reached career-high rankings, 28th and 23rd respectively. The 21-year-old rising star Paul Jubb also tasted victory.
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The LTA Youth Programme, of which Raducanu is an ambassador, is designed to reach the next generation of tennis stars in Great Britain.
The governing body feel they are now better placed to bring young people from all backgrounds into the sport.
“What I would say is that we now have the infrastructure and programmes in place, we feel, to capitalise on Emma’s success, and Joe Salisbury’s success and the success of Alfie [Hewitt] and Gordon [Reid] from the wheelchair tennis,” Scadgell continued.
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“There were other British players who reached a career-high ranking last week in Cam Norrie and Dan Evans. Paul Jupp won a $25,000 dollar event. It was a great couple of weeks for British tennis.
“Our LTA Youth Programme, which is our overarching programme to attract and retain more children in the sport, was launched earlier this year. Emma is an ambassador of our LTA Youth Programme, which is absolutely fantastic.
“We’ve had over 10,000 primary school teachers sign up for LTA Youth. We have trained up over 4,000 of those teachers to deliver LTA Youth in those primary schools.”
He continued: “What we did when tennis reopened in the spring to summertime is we launched our Play Your Way campaign.
“We developed a marketing campaign centred around: however you want to play, wherever you want to play, just play tennis your way. It’s open and accessible to anyone.
“We saw an increase in the audiences that we were reaching. We reached 54 per cent of new audiences and we reached a younger demographic.
“That helped them to understand that tennis could be a sport for them. It also helped to drive an eight per cent increase in participation.”
The investment in grassroots courts will certainly help and it will allow clubs to cope with a vastly increased interest in tennis. People had turned to the sport after it was one of the first to reopen following the first national lockdown.
Raducanu’s success will only accentuate the demand for court space. The teenager even quipped last week that she had struggled to book a court in the days after her win over Fernandez.
Scadgell adds: “What we have seen is a really significant awareness of her achievements. A huge number of people are talking about what she has done, some who don’t play tennis, who aren’t involved in the sport.
“They are being absolutely captivated and inspired by what she has achieved. Anecdotally – and it’s only been a week and we haven’t got the hard data – speaking to a number of tennis clubs in terms of the interest it has generated and the number of new enquiries, both in terms of memberships for children and for adults and for pay and play, we’re hearing a huge amount of further interest.
“That’s great because it’s building on what we’ve seen over the past year – tennis was one of the first sports to reopen post-lockdown in May 2020. We saw a huge spike in interest in bookings, particularly across our hard-court estates up and down the country.
“That led to an eight per cent increase in recreational participation last year. This, hopefully, will further boost the amount of people who want to pick up a racket.”
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