IF YOUR involvement with the sport is limited to watching Wimbledon then you’d be forgiven for thinking that tennis is somewhat elitist.
But that prestigious tournament is unique and not all of the country’s tennis facilities demand membership and run on exclusivity.
In fact, Wrexham Tennis Centre, the sport’s biggest hub in the region, is quite the opposite.
There is no membership and it offers pay-and-play tennis for everyone, of any age or ability, to enjoy.
The centre celebrates its 20th anniversary on Saturday and is holding a free tennis open day to mark the occasion.
“We don’t have membership,” emphasised Deborah King, director at North Wales Regional Tennis Centre Ltd.
“You can just book a court and come along and play with your friends or come to the sessions, courses or organised social events that we have on.
“We do have a core group of regulars but we are constantly getting new people coming for the first time.
“It’s a game for life – we have all ages here from three to 83.”
Deborah has been involved with the Centre from the very beginning.
“We were a group of players from the Garden Village Tennis Club – a very old club which had four shale courts surrounded by housing,” she recalled.
“We were looking to expand but we had no room where we were.
“We began to look for a new site and it was about the time when people were starting to look into indoor courts to make it a year-round sport which it wasn’t until then.
“We held talks with the council and, at one time, we were going to have the site where Sainsbury’s is now but they got in first so we ended up moving here.”
Once the site had been chosen, the necessary funding was secured and work began.
“The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) were looking for partnerships with local authorities.
“It was made possible with the support of the LTA, the county council, Sports Council for Wales, the trust board and the Garden Village Tennis Club which provided funds from the sale of their courts for housing. Building commenced in 89 and was completed in 1990.”
Since then the centre has expanded and now boast seven full-size indoor courts as well as two mini courts for budding juniors.
There are also 11 outdoor courts, including the four used by the Wrexham Lawn Tennis Club.
Not only is Wrexham the premier centre in North Wales, you would have to go as far as Nottingham to find a facility equal to it.
The centre operates a successful academy where talented players can receive top-class coaching.
Among the ranks of the academy is 19-year-old Lisa Whybourn, currently world number 284.
She is a rising star on the tennis circuit and regularly plays at tournaments around the globe, narrowly missing out on Wimbledon qualification this year but is hoping to reach SW19 in 2011.
And more and more talented youngsters are taking advantage of the facilities on their doorstep.
Programmes of tuition are offered to players who wish to improve their performance right up to those who are aiming to become full time players.
Dan Sanders is head coach of the academy. He said: “Our youngest is about six years old. We have at least a couple of hundred in the performance end of the academy who have shown talent and have been picked out because of it.
“Our own talent scout, John Whitehall goes out to schools looking for promising youngsters and bringing them here for coaching. We might offer them programmes ranging from developing their performance up to coaching them as full time players.”
Whether you are simply a recreational player or a budding Andy Murray or Laura Robson, Wrexham Tennis Centre is a world-class facility open to all.
- Wrexham Tennis Centre celebrates its 20th year on Saturday with a free tennis open day.
There will be plenty of fun activities for adults and children alike from 9am to noon and free court hire until 5pm.
For more details go to www.nwrtc.co.uk
See full story in the Leader