Gone are the days of the teenage tennis sensation. With rules restricting playing schedules for Under-18s, we are unlikely to see another teenage Grand Slam champion in the vein of Martina Hingis or Boris Becker.
While Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati both turned professional at 13, the number of Under-20s in the ATP and WTA Top 100 is down to single figures, with many talented youngsters encouraged to stay in education.
Where once the only viable option for British youngsters was an American college scholarship, the University Tennis Programme endeavours to keep homegrown talent on British soil.
Run by the Tennis Foundation with support from the LTA, the programme offers support to universities to grow tennis at all levels.
At the top level this comes in the way of performance funding, but at the other end of the spectrum, finance is available to help universities increase participation.
Whether used to train students to coach in the local community, setting up leagues as part of the allplay scheme, or establishing a Cardio Tennis programme, the Development Awards are designed to get more people playing tennis.
“We allow universities to apply for funding from the Development Awards for what they feel would most benefit their programmes,” Alistair Higham, Universities Manager at the Tennis Foundation told TIA UK News.
“A great example is the University of Portsmouth who are paying for four students to gain their coaching qualifications. In return, those students will do a certain number of hours’ coaching at the university for free.
“It’s an ‘everybody wins’ scenario. We like this kind of forward thinking as they are building for the future.”
Another way for universities to build for the future is by appointing a University Tennis Coordinator, whose salary is joint-funded by the Tennis Foundation and the university.
The part-time role is a two-year position for a post-graduate student to work to grow the sport at the university while studying for their Masters.
“Since the start of the programme in 2009, 41 University Tennis Coordinators have been appointed,” Higham said. “It’s a great stepping stone.
“It creates a pathway from education into the tennis industry. A couple of University Tennis Coordinators have gone on to work for bodies such as the LTA.”
With 44 new university courts (33 outdoor and 11 indoor) since 2009, and more in the pipeline, university tennis is on the rise.
And it’s not just facilities – the standard of competition at university level is improving. British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS), the national governing body for Higher Education sport in the UK, has seen a steady increase in entries.
This year, 319 teams (195 men’s and 124 women’s) from 89 universities entered the BUCS team competition, an increase of 7% over two years.
In the top tiers of BUCS competition, many of the top players will benefit from support as part of the performance programme.
Leeds Metropolitan University is one of nine universities in the performance programme, with students benefiting from up to 36 hours’ court time a week alongside strength and conditioning training, nutrition support and sports psychology sessions.
“We have nine student teams and around 60 students on our tennis programme as well as a large recreational programme,” Louise Assioun, Tennis Development Manager at Leeds Met University told TIA UK News.
“A couple of our first-team players are world-ranked and some of our top players receive LTA matrix funding and we support them by subsidising the programme so they don’t pay for court time.”
The scholarships on offer at American colleges often prove to be the cheapest option for players wanting to continue their education. However, staying in the UK could prove to be more lucrative in the long run.
“There are many benefits of staying in the UK and one reason that often gets overlooked is that at a British university you can play the Aegon GB Pro Series and the British Tour events and take home the prize money,” says Assioun.
“Obviously the benefit of going to America is the massive scholarships on offer but you must retain your amateur status.”
“The main focus at American colleges is to play for the team whereas here you would have other opportunities as well as playing for your university,” adds Higham.
With the standard of university competition on the rise, taking tennis and education to a higher level while staying on British soil is an increasingly viable option, something that can only benefit the UK tennis industry.