Mercury Tennis Club aims to give youngsters 'equal opportunities' and inspire next generation
PUBLISHED: 10:00 16 June 2016
This is a golden era for British tennis, and the nation will be hoping for more success this summer as the world's best players take to England's grass courts in the championships at Queen's and Wimbledon.
Last November, Andy Murray led Great Britain’s men’s team to their first Davis Cup victory since 1936 and, in January, Johanna Konta – who is currently ranked 19th in the world – joined the Scot in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
An exciting month is in prospect but, in the longer-term, there are some who are concerned there may be bleaker times ahead, and that there may be fewer home favourites to cheer on in the future.
Coach Danny Ward feels young people are being marginalised – and he responded in 2009 by establishing Mercury Tennis Club in Hampstead Garden Suburb.
“I think it is quite worrying –there aren’t that many people playing tennis,” the 43-year-old told Ham&High Sport. “We’ve got to get more people into it, especially children.
“I think it’s a very hard game to get into, financially as well. We’ve got to try to get people involved in groups and set more things up that are subsidised.
“I ran a club not too far away and saw a lot of older people not wanting kids to play tennis. There were different committees and old-fashioned clubs, and I just thought ‘I’ve got to get my own club here rather than report to a committee all the time, so that we can run it fairly and have equal opportunities for everybody and so children can have access to tennis courts’.
“Even though there were empty courts, children still weren’t able to play because of certain restrictions on time.
“Because they pay less membership than adults, [there was a feeling] it should be adult members after about 5.30pm.
“We were looking for a more youthful feel [at Mercury] and for the children to have the same opportunities as the adults.”
Ward and his business partner Ros Edwards, who lives in Crouch End, took the lease of a dilapidated site in Willifield Way, behind Fellowship Hall.
They inherited four broken tarmac courts and a clubhouse occupied by squirrels but have transformed the facility, installing astroturf and upgrading the facilities. Membership has grown year on year and there are now around 70 adults and 30 children.
Games and coaching activities take place seven days a week, and teams of all levels compete in the Middlesex leagues, while there are club sessions for members twice a week, annual championships and monthly tournaments, plus holiday courses and social events.
There are two full-time coaches. Ward was ranked fifth in the world in the over-35 veteran circuit in 2009 and is still 17th in the doubles, while Sebastien Bernard has 30 years of experience – and there are also three part-time coaches, including Edwards, who has represented Middlesex.
“If you’re looking for a friendly tennis club with a nice atmosphere in beautiful settings then it’s the perfect club for people,” said Ward.
“We’d like to improve the membership and the coaching programme, setting up more groups for adults and children.”
Next Sunday, June 26, Mercury will be hosting two former British Davis Cup players, Danny Sapsford and Alex Slabinsky.
The pair are due to hold tennis clinics, coaching children and adult players, before putting on an exhibition match – and members of the public are welcome to take part in the sessions and get on court during the open day, which will take place from 11am to 5pm.
“We’re hoping to put on a good show for the local area and to get more people interested in playing tennis,” said Ward.
“It could be someone who comes from a long way away that comes to the open day, but then I could give them advice on what clubs are nearer to them. We might do an exhibition doubles match.
“The players are doing it for free and all the money raised on the day will go back into the club, going towards free coaching sessions.”
For more information or to register your attendance, visit www.mercurytennisclub.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org, as places are limited.