Far more British people watch than play tennis, and the fact that Britain hosts Wimbledon makes tennis appear an annual national two-week love affair. Yet while tens of millions of people watch the tournament globally, the millions of pounds it raises for the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has generated very little British success. Since 1977, when Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon singles title, no British player has come close to winning a major event, and the standard of the women’s game declined so much in the early 1990s that the traditional Federation Cup (between the USA and the UK) was dropped, due to the scale of the American victories. The outlook for the playing standards in the women’s game in the 1990s is bleak, with the highest ranked UK player well outside the world top 100 at the end of 1996. Some inside tennis see this as the result of the declining numbers of young girls playing tennis (and sport in general), with three times more boys than girls taking up the junior game every year between 1991 and 1996.
   The men saw some improvement in the mid-1990s, with players of true potential appearing (notably Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski), and clearly the LTA’s investment in the 1980s had improved the standard of junior tennis, but perhaps real success should not be expected in a country without a genuine grassroots tennis base. There have always been many clubs, but until the mid-1980s most were privately run and expensive. In the 1980s the LTA began building inexpensive facilities for young players from all social classes. More generally, tennis in schools has declined, as has all school sport. The LTA (with an annual budget of £40m by the mid-1990s) has tried to fill this gap, increasing the number of indoor courts from 150 in 1986 to 800 in 1996, and setting up training centres in twenty-six different cities, but these are essentially attempts to shift the culture of the game from its middle-class roots. Tennis in the UK is as much a social occasion as a sporting one. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it accordingly reduces the chances of Britain producing world-class players. Until a real popular interest in tennis is generated, the UK cannot really expect to seriously compete in the world game.
   See also: table tennis
   Further reading
    Evans, R. (1988) Open Tennis: The First Twenty Years, London, Bloomsbury.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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