The strategy of any successful enterprise is to start quietly, build the basics, ensure things are running efficiently and then, when the time is right, announce things in a more public manner. Junior Tennis Coaching have followed the tried and tested tactics and while nobody would be so crass as to suggest it was opportune to shout from the rooftops of Ducks Hill Road, the time had come to make a few more people aware of what had been diligently building at the Virgin Active Northwood Riverside.
So the tennis press; both national and local, were invited to the well-appointed tennis and health club in rural Middlesex that has been home to JTC since last September with lead coaches David Felgate, Alan Jones and Jo Durie along with financial backer Clive Sherling and Virgin Active’s own head coach Will Singleton explaining the strides that had been made in the past seven months. And yes, cynical though some of us have become over the course of time and the different false dawns in British tennis, we were more than encouraged by what we were told.
There is, of course, no set formula for turning a promising and talented youngster into a fully-fledged tennis professional. If there was then the world game and going down through tennis’ various levels which be boringly stereotyped. The message JTC wanted to put across is that their approach is very individualistic and that a small academy with just 12 players is potentially just potentially successful an environment as say the Lawn Tennis Association’s state-of-the-art £30 million National Tennis Centre at Roehampton.
But JTC are insistent there is no competition with the LTA. It’s just a different way of doing things and the two can be mutually compatible. Indeed Simon Jones, the LTA’s Head of Performance Support, was in attendance as Sherling explained just why he had become disillusioned with directing his energies into professional football and saw tennis, and the education of quality players, as a perfect substitute.
Sherling elucidated on why, having invested in promising youngsters like Australia’s Bernard Tomic and Donna Vekic of Croatia, he now wanted to see if he could help British youngsters as well. But he always wants to ensure that a rounded education is still paramount.
Yet as he pointed out: “There’s no money in this. There is a cost to running it. The LTA have been very supportive. We think we work in a complimentary way to the LTA, they have their way of doing things, it doesn’t suit everyone – it suits many – but there are a number of people taking an alternative path in the tennis world.”
Felgate, both long-term coach to the now retired world no.4 ranked Tim Henman and more recently Director of Performance with the LTA, splits his time between being 16 year-old Vekic’s travelling coach and integrating her preparation work with JTC. In collaboration Jones and Durie provide a level of experience and expertise that is second to none.
So JTC is now on the tennis map with Northwood firmly established as home base. Now let’s watch things take their course in forthcoming months and the growing optimism that everyone felt at the official launch is hopefully justified.
Barry Flatman (Sunday Times Tennic Correspondent) - April 2013