Anders Borg on his vision to bringing tennis to the youngsters of Liverpool


Anders Borg, director of the Liverpool International Tennis Tournament, talks about his vision to bring the sport to youngsters in the city

Given his surname and Nordic roots it’s no surprise that Anders Borg was drawn to the world of tennis.

But it was more a happy accident than a desire to follow in the footsteps of the great Bjorn Borg that drew Anders to set up a tennis tournament in a city best known for its world-famous footballing heritage.

A native of Oslo, Anders had a high-flying job as a derivatives broker when he accepted an invitation from a friend to come and watch a game at Goodison Park in 1985.

‘I’m an Arsenal supporter and Everton thrashed us 6-1, recalls Anders of his first experience of the city.

Despite that inauspicious start, Anders gradually fell in love with Liverpool and began to formulate the idea of setting up a tennis tournament there.“I wanted to take tennis out of London and bring it to people who wouldn’t normally go to Wimbledon or Queen’s,” he recalls. “I wanted to show what a fantastic day out it is.’

The first Liverpool International Tournament was held in 2002 but it almost did not happen.

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‘We had signed up the then Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic but he had to pull out of our tournament and Wimbledon that year with a shoulder injury – it was a costly experience.’

Despite that setback, Anders’ passion for the sport ensured the event went ahead and thrived over the intervening years, with support from Liverpool City Council.

The players who have graced the grass courts in Calderstones Park in the south of the city read like a Who’s Who of the game’s greats: Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Novak Djokovic, Martina Hingis, Marat Safin and even the great Bjorn Borg himself.

It has now established itself as one of the premier tennis exhibition events in Europe. But the dapper Norwegian now has his sights set on helping a new generation enjoy the game.

Anders knows this is no easy task as tennis has always had something of an image problem in the UK, unlike in other countries. Participation in the game is down and after Andy Murray you have to look pretty far down the rankings, to the mid-200s, to find the next British men in Jamie Baker and James Ward.

Anders adds: ‘Part of the problem is that people think tennis is an expensive, elitist sport but it is no more expensive than swimming or football. There are lots of courts in public parks that are free and youngsters can join a club for £30 or £40 a year.

“At the moment tennis is simply not offered to enough youngsters. Not surprisingly, football tends to dominate children’s sport — but if they had two sports, say tennis and football, they would become much better athletes and better-rounded individuals.

“A couple of years ago we had Laura Robson at the tennis tournament and the kids treated her like a rock star, it was fantastic.”

Now, with the help of the city council and the Lawn Tennis Association, Anders has set up a foundation to take tennis into schools throughout Liverpool.

As well as showcasing the sport, the Northern Vision Liverpool Tennis Foundation will organise in-school coaching, after-school clubs, competitions, mentoring and a tennis academy. Thousands of youngsters from the city will also get the chance to meet the stars at the Liverpool International Tournament for free.

Says Anders: “When they see live tennis, the kids realise what a fantastic sport it is: the difference between seeing it on TV and on the court is like night and day.

“Liverpool-based players such as Ken Skupsky and Chloe Murphy have won tennis scholarships to America that have paid for their education.“American colleges love to have international students and they are willing to subsidise them. It shows the great opportunities that are out there.”

Anders believes sponsorship is crucial to breeding the Andy Murrays and Laura Robsons of tomorrow.

He adds: “If tennis is truly to take off in Britain we need better facilities such as more indoor courts for the winter. In austerity Britain the main problem facing all sport is cash and, with public money in such short supply, we need to find as many sources of funding as possible.

‘Tennis is the perfect vehicle for sponsors and could have a huge economic impact on a city like Liverpool. Liverpool is already on the tennis map as the annual Liverpool International Tennis Tournament is now the biggest exhibition event in Europe. Now that the grass court season has been extended we are looking at it as a possible future ATP venue like Queen’s or Eastbourne.

‘If that were to happen it would have a massive impact, similar to the city winning the Capital of Culture. There would be so much world focus on the city and the economic benefits would be spread over 10 days of competition, longer than a major golf tournament, and would be repeated every year.

‘But to do this we need sponsors, especially national brands with global appeal, to get behind the sport. If we could get good sponsorship at local level, we could start to build a whole new level of support for the game.”Sponsorship from the tennis tournament will go towards kick-starting the foundation.

Anders already has plenty of support in the game for his ambitious plans.1996 Wimbledon singles champion Richard Krajicek said: “Anders has always been a great supporter of tennis and getting youth involved. With the Liverpool Tennis Foundation he is taking it to another level and this way even more kids will get in contact with tennis.”

Anders adds: ‘All the best athletes in whatever sport start when they are young. I’m convinced that giving youngsters the right exposure to tennis at an early age is the best way to increase participation in the game.

Through the foundation we will do this. That can only help to produce the Wimbledon champions of tomorrow.