As Sally Kinnes prepares to sign off from her role as founding director of Local Tennis Leagues, she looks back at 15 glorious years by the way of ten of her favourite things!
1: It’s such a simple idea (even if it wasn't ours)
As Jane Austen nearly said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to improve at tennis you have to play matches. It was actually my coach, James, who told me this and, after umpteen lessons, it was something of a lightbulb moment. Matches! That's what our game was missing. As there was no structure to compete in the park at the time, James suggested we invent one and the Highbury Fields Tennis League was born. Like so many simple suggestions, it was an idea that was waiting to happen. Why would there not be a local tennis league in the park?
From smashing seaside settings...
To London's finest..
2: The parks
One of the things the Victorians and Edwardians did for us was fall in love with sport, tennis and the great virtues of parks. In their high-minded way, they knew outdoor activity was good for you and with a keen eye for a park landscape, they built tennis courts in beautiful locations. From the public courts in Exeter and St Albans you can see the city’s cathedrals; in Lincolns Inn, a tiny green oasis in the heart of legal London, you could just about land a lob on the building where the Queen’s solicitor works and in Whitstable, it’s short hop over the wall from the courts to the beach for post-match swim. Who could resist?
3: Friendly, competitive tennis
What do you think of when Rafa plays Roger? Friendship or competition or both? There is something in the zeitgeist about ‘friendly, competitive tennis’ and even without the evidence of a study a couple of years ago that said tennis players live longer (probably because it’s such a social sport), we know that at the heart of tennis is friendship. There has even been at least one Local Tennis League baby: the parents met in round 7 of the Clapham Common Tennis League.
4: The partnerships we made
Whether it’s the lovely-to-work with people at HEAD tennis, the generosity of Mizuno (were you one of those who applied for a free piece of kit?), the trips to Rafa Nadal's Mallorca or the help of GLL and DriveNow, partners played a crucial role in developing Local Tennis Leagues. The partnerships might have ended but we are still using the products.
WE LOVE NEWCASTLE
Newcastle was one of the many, many city and regional councils that got behind the leagues.
5: The way court operators have said yes!
We have not done this on our own. All leagues are collaborations. We always need local authorities, venue operators and sometimes clubs to agree to a league and nationwide, 95% have said yes (come on, Leeds Council, what’s not to like!). As a business, tennis can be surprisingly tough and the overwhelming majority of court operators are generous, open-minded and entrepreneurial tennis-lovers who, to invoke the cliché, know we are all in it together.
6: The way it went nationwide
Local Tennis Leagues might not be global (we did have plans!) but one league became many as it went national. There are leagues from Aberdeen to Plymouth and from Cardiff to Sunderland. There have been other incarnations before – there was a postal league and the LTA now runs a national league – but as far as we are aware, Local Tennis Leagues is the first – and only – nationwide structure which allows men and women of any standard to play friendly, competitive tennis in the park. It’s probably the thing we are most proud of.
Local Tennis LEAGUES Wins the DAVIS CUP
The team of 2016: Nigel, Rita, Parul and Sally
Meanwhile, Mia gets ready to send the Roundup: "Read all about it: LTL Wins The Davis Cup"
7: Our lovely staff
In the early days, Local Tennis Leagues was maintained with a slender staff and an army of students. We once counted seven of us in our living room wrapping tennis balls, sending emails, signing up players, organising groups, and talking to venues while sisters Helen and Emma got through many an old episode of Friends laminating posters. In the pre-automated days, Parul did more heavy lifting of the admin than anyone should be asked to, while the data-crunching Rita, the cake-loving Mia and our ever-cheerful director Adam, not forgetting Rob, Nilakshi, our countless volunteers and Simon, have helped us more than we can say.
8: The range of players
We love the way every walk of life is represented in the leagues. I myself have played (among others): a judge, a tube driver, a CEO, a former homeless man, several architects, a theatre director, a legal secretary, a publicist, a police woman, an academic, a tax consultant, lawyers, accountants, journalists and teachers, an organist, a sound engineer, a restaurant owner, a picture editor, a builder, a scientist, several charity workers, a pub manager, a costume supervisor, several doctors, nurses and psychotherapists, an MEP (remember them?), a gardener and (or so it feels) most of the tech industry. The nationalities are just as diverse.
9: The Rafa Nadal Academy
Have we mentioned how much we love the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar? Built just outside Manacor this is not, to be honest, the most beautiful town in Mallorca. But the way Rafa turned down countless financial offers to locate his Academy elsewhere in favour of it building in his hometown, tells you everything about how this outstanding centre combines old fashioned loyalty and friendliness with state-of-the-art facilities. Will we be going back for a reunion when travel restrictions allow? Suffice it to say I have spent part of the lockdown learning Spanish.
10: Your sportsmanship and commitment
Leagues are nothing without players. What you need is people who love tennis, who will arrange their own matches and who be philosphical when things go wrong. You need people who are fair-minded about line calls, who will tolerate the cancellations imposed by the British climate and who will lend their opponent their spare racket when he or she breaks a string. They will give lifts, give the benefit of the doubt and give their time, loyalty and commitment. You have been all these things and many, many more. Our heartfelt thanks.