IT’S fair to say that tennis is one sport in Canberra that has often not reached its potential at the international level.
There has been the stop-start nature of major events being played in Canberra coupled with facilities that failed to meet requirements to stage significant tournaments.
When the Canberra Women’s International was played at Lyneham for six years there was always an inkling that it was on life support.
I remember going along to press conferences involving Tennis Australia where I felt the end was always near. Canberra also had plans in 1996 to be the clay-court capital of Australia; but at the time the desire was to play opponents on grass whenever possible at home, and hopes of staging a Davis Cup tie on clay evaporated.
We have had plenty of one-off tournaments; there was the Rio International featuring Pat Cash and Ivan Lendl at the AIS Arena in the 1980s, the AIS also hosted the Fed Cup tie between Australia and Argentina in 1998. But apart from the Canberra Women’s tournament there has been little to satisfy the appetite for top-level tennis in the ACT.
We have had the players, but the impression that there could have been more lingers. Wally Masur, the Larkhams, the Ellwoods and Nick Kyrgios, have all come through the Canberra system.
But things could be about to change with the $27 million redevelopment of the Lyneham facility, formerly known as the National Sports Club, which has been constructed through a joint project involving the ACT Government, Tennis ACT and Tennis Australia and Next Generation.
The new development is starting to take shape with 32 tennis courts with all bases covered: hard, clay, indoor and synthetic. In fact, the sport is undergoing a transformation with the revamped North Woden facility and increased demand for court space at Melba.
The hope is that the state-of-the-art facility will energise the sport in Canberra (there is nothing to suggest that it won’t) and attract Davis or Fed Cups to Canberra.
I get the impression there is a strong desire to succeed within Tennis ACT, led by CEO Ross Triffitt, and through coaches such as Todd Larkham, Alun Jones and Andrew Bulley.
However, the real impact could be in the growth of numbers of people taking up the sport as well as the infrastructure to fully cater for developing players who may have felt they were best served elsewhere.