GB strives to fill the void of Wimbledon as the ‘British Tour’ begins in Roehampton … with ladies and gentlemen champions for just £ 900 each
- LTA’s British Tour takes place July 2-26 at the National Tennis Center
- Lower GB players compete at the tournament in Roehampton
- Cameron Norrie, Emma Raducanu and Paul Jubb are among those involved
Wimbledon’s Center Court rocked on the first Friday of last year when 15-year-old Coco Gauff saved two match points by knocking out Polona Hercog to reach the last 16. And 12 months later, professional tennis was still going on in South West London on Friday, although the scene could hardly have been any different.
A very limited audience was scattered across the grass in front of the National Tennis Center in Roehampton, watching lower ranked GB players attempting to control the ball in the gusts of wind that flew through the first event of the reconstituted ‘British Tour’.
No Pimm’s or strawberries and cream, no need for the referee to ask ‘Quiet, please’, just the sound of aspiring professionals grinding through the gears when they returned after four months of free play.
Cameron Norrie is one of many GB players in action during this month’s British Tour event
The singles winners in the 16-man draw for men and women each take £ 900 home, which is £ 175,000 less than Gauff received for her sensational progression to the fourth round of just 15. The Roehampton players had to take what staff at the Lawn Tennis Association headquarters call the “Yellow Brick Road,” an assigned path through the NTC building that leads to the outdoor courts.
It may not be the All England Club, but everything is still terribly well organized.
Even at an event whose names are only recognizable to the cognoscenti, no risk is taken. There were temperature controls at the door, hand sanitizer everywhere and a strict limit of one coach per player on the spot. Minor details include using six balls in the game before a game, rather than the usual four at this level, to reduce the chances of them becoming what Boris Johnson would call a “vector for the disease.”
It all seemed a long way from the course of the recent Adria Tour, which collapsed into a Covid-ravaged mess for its lead promoter Novak Djokovic. A sign from the Roehampton court warns that handshakes are prohibited, let alone the kind of bullying in Djokovic’s social football games or the now infamous trip to a nightclub in Belgrade.
Coco Gauff rocked Wimbledon on the first Friday of last year by defeating Polona Hercog
The fact is that players at the lower level of tennis are much more used to doing what they are told to do, while at the top there are some who consider themselves above instruction.
The US Open is currently struggling with the disciplinary action to be taken for those who do not abide by the rules, although the British men at the Battle of the British last week seemed to behave exemplarily.
This week is the first chance since the closure that the women have had to compete. Among them is Emma Raducanu, the promising 17-year-old from Kent who may have been awarded a Wimbledon wildcard in a parallel universe.
“It’s great to be in competitions again, I haven’t played in nine weeks and the training and matches are very different,” she said after reaching the semi-finals. Unfortunately, Wimbledon never happened. The LTA has done a good job of keeping these tournaments behind closed doors. The first days we were a bit confused, but it did not take much getting used to. ‘
Raducanu plans to play a few more domestic events pending the official circuit to resume next month, although the tournaments in America are far from sure.
The lockdown was especially beneficial for individual sports in the UK, such as tennis and golf, which were one of the few to resume eight weeks ago.
LTA CEO Scott Lloyd reported last week that automated tennis court reservations will increase by 250 percent this summer.
Promising 17-year-old Emma Raducanu may have received a Wimbledon wildcard