Participation figures show a surge in players hitting the courts as the sport’s governing body claims tennis has ‘opened up’.
Figures announced by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) show growth across all demographics and regions of Great Britain.
LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd said: “We are delighted with these figures. At the LTA our vision is tennis opened up, and we’ve worked hard to put solid foundations in place to make tennis more accessible.”
Annual participation of young people (aged 16-34) rocketed by 48% in 2022 as 1.4 million more adults hit the courts.
Women’s participation grew 34%, now accounting for 41% of adult players, meaning tennis is one of the UK’s most gender balanced sports.
The LTA’s roll-out of specifically tailored initiatives show a concerted effort to make tennis more accessible and welcoming to underrepresented audiences.
The biggest playing increase (53%) was reported amongst lower socio-economic groups, spearheaded by the ‘LTA Serves’ campaign.
Historic ties to a middle class, elitist endeavour have long been a barrier to participation, particularly in non-traditional environments.
However, these latest figures show encouraging signs that a shift in public perception is underway.
Lloyd added: “I’d like to thank everyone involved in British tennis for playing their part in growing the game.
“We’ve also got some brilliant players who are flying the flag for British tennis internationally and providing inspiration to fans and the next generation.”
The LTA have since been shortlisted for ‘Sports Organisation of the Year’ at the 2023 Sports Industry Awards.
We're proud to have been shortlisted as Sport Organisation Of The Year in the 2023 @SportIndustry Awards
— LTA (@the_LTA) February 21, 2023
Raising the profile
The international success of GB stars is recognised as key to raising the sport’s profile, encouraging people to pick up a racket.
Liverpool doubles specialist Neal Skupski is one of the British stars doing exactly that.
Seven titles in 2022 with back-to-back Wimbledon mixed doubles titles, have sent Skupski to the summit of tennis’ World rankings.
Skupski is the third British doubles player behind Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury to reach the number one ranking since 2016.
His triumphs build on a golden era of sustained success for British tennis at the highest level.
Britain currently boast four men ranked in the World’s top 60 singles players and the number one ranked men’s wheelchair player in Alfie Hewett.
Cameron Norrie of GB claimed the Rio Open crown last week, defeating US Open Champion and World number two Carlos Alcaraz.
The win came just hours after Andy Murray continued to defy the odds by grinding his way to the final of the Qatar Open, falling short to Daniil Medvedev.
Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented win at the 2021 US Open presented an unrivalled opportunity to attract new female players.
Raducanu is the only British woman currently ranked in the top 100 players.
“These successes are fundamental to people picking up a racket,” said LTA’s participation director Olly Scadgell.
The Wimbledon factor
Despite progress, ensuring new players have incentive to play year-round and not just across two weeks of Wimbledon each summer is essential.
The LTA’s reported 4.7 million adult tennis players in the UK is wildly different to those found from independent surveys conducted by Sport England.
Tennis participation has actually been falling progressively to a low of 650,000 in 2021 according to Sport England’s data.
A high of 900,000 players was reported in 2016, the year Andy Murray won his second Wimbledon title and finished year-end World number one.
The LTA has a history of failing to meet participation targets, suffering major embarrassment in 2012 with funding cut by £530,000 by Sport England.
The differences highlight the challenge of accurately measuring participation in UK sport.
Playing once in a four-week period was enough to be considered a regular participant in the LTA’s figures.
Whereas Sport England, who measure English participation only, required players to have participated twice within a 28 day period.
Further still, Tennis Lancashire, which covers Merseyside, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, defines ‘playing tennis’ as once a week.
The north-west region saw a 4,700 increase in adult players to 225,000 in 2022.
It amounts to 2% and a far-cry from the 43% tennis revolution reported by the LTA.
Statistics aside, the LTA is clearly determined to capitalise on an exciting platform inspired by British success on the World stage.
Investing in facilities
Investing in new facilities, including courts, floodlights and indoor centres has been a further driver of participation.
A £30 million investment to revive 4,500 park tennis courts has been pledged by the UK Government and LTA’s Tennis Foundation.
The package will refurbish 1,500 venues as part of the Government’s commitment to levelling up sports provision across the nation.
Many park courts are in poor and unplayable conditions, doing little to engage new players to the sport.
Merseyside have secured £300,000 of this funding to upgrade nine park court sites across the Wirral.
A Wirral Council spokesperson said: “Council officers are currently working with the LTA to sign-off the terms and conditions of the grant funding.”
The upgrade to public facilities will enhance experiences for all as the LTA seeks to build a new tennis nation.