Why tennis is struggling for players

David Holden Roar Guru

By David Holden, David Holden is a Roar Guru


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    Nick Kyrgios is through to the second round at the Aussie Open. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta-Journal Constitution via AP)

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    Around Australia, tennis court owners are getting ready for their silly season. That’s right, the Australian Open is just around the corner and people all over the country are dusting off their racquets and getting ready for their annual hit.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t carry on for the rest of the year. Use any set of statistics you like, but the consensus is that the number of registered tennis players in Australia has fallen by about 40 per cent since 2000. But why has this happened and can Tennis Australia do much to stop this trend?

    First, there’s a commercial reality. We saw it first with squash courts disappearing all over suburban Australia and the same trend is happening with tennis courts.

    There are just less around. With most suburban councils looking for more medium to high density residential options, there is pressure to close tennis courts and replace with housing.

    If they are not replacing them with housing, some of these are being converted to multi function facilities, to cater for other sports like futsal.

    Secondly, there’s just more choice for kids sport in 2017 than there was when I was growing up. Back then, as a boy in Sydney, you mostly played soccer or one of the rugby codes in winter and cricket in summer.

    As a girl, you typically played netball. The one exception to this was tennis and its arguable that throughout the 1980s and early 1990s tennis was at a peak.

    In 2017, there is more choice. Basketball has taken off, Oztag continues to increase its popularity and, in Sydney, AFL is picking up players.

    And finally, most kids I know are more likely to idolise Steve Smith, LeBron James or Sharni Layton than Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic and who could blame them? We have had a good run with popular tennis players like John Newcomb, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, the Pats Cash and Rafter), the Woodies and the older, more mature Lleyton Hewitt.

    For the time being at least, that run has ended.

    Can Tennis Australia do anything to stop the rot? I think there are so many options for kids sport today than tennis participation will never get back to where it was.

    However, I think it’s possible to stop the decline. Tennis Australia need to revamp the Hot Shots program to get more kids through the door at the beginner level, potentially via working more with schools.

    All governments are encouraging kids to be more active so that may be the opportune time to increase engagement.

    But you know what would really increase participation? If Nick or Bernie, or preferably Sam Stosur or Daria Gavrilova wins the Australian Open, participation numbers would increase.

    In this highly saturated sports market that is Australia, everyone still loves a winner!

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    The Crowd Says (8)

    • January 8th 2017 @ 9:36am
      New guy said | January 8th 2017 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      Mate, there aren’t more choices. Oztag and touch have been around for ages and are played midweek
      Also AFL and basketball have been around for decades too
      Basketball was massive 25 years ago

    • January 8th 2017 @ 9:55am
      David Holden said | January 8th 2017 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      New Guy, I grew up in Sydney in the 70’s when AFL was something they played in Victoria. I didn’t see too many kids walking around in Chicago Bulls shirts until the early 1990’s when Michael Jordan went global. Maybe guys like Pat Rafter kept tennis popular until around 2000 but there has been a clear drop since then…myself included

      • Roar Guru

        January 8th 2017 @ 3:28pm
        peeeko said | January 8th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

        oztag, touch footy? how many kids in sydney really play AFL? jordan had been huge since 1985

        • January 11th 2017 @ 11:08pm
          Mark said | January 11th 2017 @ 11:08pm | ! Report

          Jordan may have started in the NBA in 1984 but he was pretty much unknown in Australia until 1989 when the ABC and then Channel 10 started showing highlights of the NBA.
          I don’t think tennis was at a peak in Australia in the 1980s and 90s. Tennis courts have been disappearing in Sydney since the early 80s and Australia had only 2 grand slam champions (Cash 1 and Rafter 2) from 1978 to 2001. Rafter was very popular with the general public but Cash was too busy abusing journalists and umpires to have any long term popularity (apart from his Wimbledon year in 1987). Tennis has fallen away as a participation sport in Australia since tennis became open in the late 1960s and the long line of Aussie champions ended with Newcombe.
          I think the Australian Open is more popular now than ever – each year they set attendance records – partly due to Hewitt and partly due to all time greats like Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But I agree that it appears that fewer people play tennis now than say 40 years ago. There are still a number of tennis courts in my area but they always seem to be empty.

    • January 8th 2017 @ 11:07am
      BigAl said | January 8th 2017 @ 11:07am | ! Report

      I don’t think lack of courts is a big issue.

      I see plenty of vastly under utilised courts around the place, quite often belonging to a church tennis club…

    • January 9th 2017 @ 4:32pm
      clipper said | January 9th 2017 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

      There’s many reasons that tennis is struggling for players – agree with a lot of what you’ve written – there are many more sports these days, developer issues, but there are also many other reasons. Simple ones like Saturday trading – this was a traditional spot for mixed comps, but now that many kids (and adults) now work this day, numbers have dropped.
      There is also the problem of not adapting to today’s faster pasted society. Many of the older players like to have a tea break, have a bit of a chat between sets, dragging out comps to 4-5 hours when 2 – 2 and a half hours should be the maximum.
      Tennis Australia I think took it’s eyes off the ball, so to speak, when it was going great guns for so many years and neglected the grass roots base. They have, over the past few years, tried to change this situation and have introduced new tennis leagues that will hopefully push people into playing the the local clubs and associations. All the kids used to chase points around all the tournaments and the local comps got neglected. By reducing the tournaments to holiday times, the local comps have a chance to get the better people to play and increase competitiveness.
      The cost is also quite prohibitive – lessons start at around $80, rackets are expensive, court hire isn’t cheap. Some councils view courts as money making opportunities and therefore rents are far more than say bowling greens.
      Add to this that now the whole world plays and many are a lot hungrier for success than some players here who are happy to make a few million rather than put in the hard slog and effort to get to the top.
      Finally, for now, success makes success – have a few top players, couple of grand slams and the players will want to emulate their heroes.

    • January 28th 2017 @ 2:39pm
      Tim said | January 28th 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

      You have some valid points that you brought up in your writings but I think the main factor isn’t just there is more sport options but I think parents are becoming complacent. Parents idea of recreation for their children used to be sports and outdoor activities. This type of idea has shifted into technology. Now they are too lazy to commit that much time to their children so now Children are brought up playing video games or being on social media for their main source of recreation, it’s cheap and it’s easy. This has lead to an increasing rate of childhood obesity and mental illness.

      Children need sport, it prepares them for the real world, competition, desire to succeed, it helps release dopamine and dopamine. But saying this I should indicate that the parents aren’t fully at fault because of the rapid pace of society, there isn’t much time to spend with their children. The traditional way was that we used to be able to support families with one source of income but now it’s a struggle even doing that.

      It’s a bleak future I see for sports. Technology has not just ruined the way we communicate it has ruined our next generation. I don’t condemn technology it’s great for learning and information but that should be it’s sole purpose. No video games and no social media.

      You’ll see an huge increase in all sports and a better society.

    • September 6th 2017 @ 4:16am
      tom hall said | September 6th 2017 @ 4:16am | ! Report

      Yep. Kids do not exercise like they used to. Part of the problem. Also it has just lost popularity and doubt it will ever come back. For me, I lost interest watching when the players(especially women) started the new cool thing some years ago of yelling out grunts. Wounder how tennis got along for a hundred years without grunts. There is absolutely no reason for it and is just a habit.

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