Hit the Norfolk courts

A young player tries his hand with a racket at last year's Great British Tennis Weekend at Beccles T

A young player tries his hand with a racket at last year's Great British Tennis Weekend at Beccles Tennis club - Credit: Nick Butcher

Inspired by to pick up your tennis racket? There are plenty of opportunities to take up the sport, whatever your age

With the excitement of Wimbledon, Andy Murray’s success at the Queen’s Club and Britain’s victory in last year’s Davis Cup, July is the perfect time to embrace tennis. Whether you know a young child wanting to pick up a racket for the first time or are an adult keen to return to the game, there are a number of initiatives across Norfolk aiming to open up the sport and get more people on court.

The Norfolk branch of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) is keen to break down some of the misconceptions about the sport and to show just how affordable and accessible it can be.

Richard Palmer, president of the Norfolk LTA, started playing tennis seriously in his mid-thirties.

“I am 62 now and took up tennis relatively later in life once my cricket career had ended. But that’s the great thing about the sport, you can carry on playing for a long time, there are lots of people across the county playing in their sixties, seventies and beyond. A friend of mine didn’t start until he was 60 and he really got the bug and now plays all the time,” he says. “They say it is a game for life and it genuinely is, that is the message we want to promote. You can play at your pace and it is great for fitness and wellbeing. You just have to make sure you pick the right people to play with.”

On July 16 and 17, Norfolk will host its second Great British Tennis Weekend of the year – a national LTA initiative to give people the opportunity to play the sport for free. Across the county, there will be a number of events held at tennis clubs and public courts, with rackets and balls provided, and everyone is welcome no matter what their age or ability.

“It is a great opportunity for clubs to throw open their doors to show what they are about or for local courts to host coaching events. The challenge is to capture that enthusiasm generated by Wimbledon every summer, to persuade people that it is a sport which can be played and enjoyed by everyone,” he says.

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“I think there is a misconception that it is expensive to play, when it really isn’t. Norfolk has a huge number of courts in parks, some of which are free, some of which only cost a few pounds to book. Easton College is a pay and play centre but has some of the best facilities in the county, with eight indoor courts. And if you want to join a club, the annual membership can be as little as £40, and if you want to play regularly, it provides great value.”

After Great Britain lifted the Davis Cup last year, a legacy project - Tennis for Kids - was launched with the aim of getting 10,000 children aged five to eight playing for the first time.

“Each child gets six free sessions and if they complete it they get a racket at the end. We have more than 200 children signed up in Norfolk alone over the summer. The scheme also provides training for instructors, and of course, the hope is the children will love it and want to continue.”

Richard says tennis is also a fantastic sport for children and adults with a disability and that the success of Norfolk teenager Alfie Hewett, who is ranked among the top 20 wheelchair tennis players in the world, has proved a real inspiration.

“We now have 160 people a week having sessions across Norfolk and it is something we are very proud of. We have lessons for the learning disabled, often working closely with local schools for children with special educational needs; we teach visually impaired tennis and also wheelchair tennis. Alfie has become a real beacon for the sport and shows what you can achieve. Such is the demand for our disabled tennis programmes, we are now looking for more coaches. Those who do it find it incredibly rewarding. It enriches the lives of everyone involved.”

To find your nearest club or courts running a Great British Tennis Weekend event, see www.clubspark.lta.org.uk

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