The popularity of tennis is at a high, thanks to local legends and home-soil tournaments. Will you join the rise of the grassroots grand slammers?
Mia Poklepovich hits her target with a satisfying whack. It’s one fluid motion, but it’s also so much more. Mia isn’t just returning a tennis ball; she’s releasing the stress of a hard week running her small business, she’s spending time with friends, she’s getting her heart rate up. (She may score extra laps around the sun, too – a study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found playing tennis increases life expectancy by nearly a decade.)
“There’s something very rewarding about hitting a good shot,” says Mia, 32, who picked up her first racquet in October last year and started playing at her local court in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) regularly with a group of mates. “My friend Rachael has been coaching me and she yells encouragement from the sidelines. I always leave the court with a full cup.” It’s the mix of socialising, endorphins and exercise that has Mia hooked. “I’ve never played tennis before, not even as a kid at school. I’m a runner, but I was getting bored of doing long distances by myself, so I thought playing tennis would be a nice way to stay fit and have a social life,” she explains.
A Growing Game
Mia is one of many recent converts to the sport. Tina Keown, the director of The Victorian Tennis Academy, has seen interest in community-level tennis rise, thanks in part to what she calls ‘The Ash Barty Factor’. “Female participation at a grassroots level is growing, and it’s interesting to see so many young girls – especially those aged 11 to 14 – take up tennis for the first time. We haven’t seen that before,” reveals Keown, who has been a part of the sport for 25 years.
There’s no doubt Barty has kickstarted the party. After her historic Wimbledon win in 2021, more than 800 girls reached out to the athlete to tell her how inspiring she’s been to them, says Tom Larner, Chief Tennis Officer at Tennis Australia. “Ash has become Australia’s favourite sportsperson, not just because she’s a champion, but because she’s humble and inspiring. She’s such a strong role model for women and has played a huge role in driving participation in tennis,” he explains, adding that fellow Aussie player Ajla Tomljanović (who sensationally knocked Serena Williams out of the US Open last year) and the recent Australian Open are also getting people talking about – as well as playing – the sport.
Andrea Buckeridge, who heads Tennis Australia’s women and girls strategy, says, “Our mission is to get more women and girls leading and playing tennis in Australia, and one of our key focuses is around community leadership.” Last year, she launched the Women Leaders in Tennis Program, which saw 167 women across the country undertake a four-month course and aims to increase the percentage of female club presidents from 26 to 40.
“Tennis is such an accessible sport – all ages and abilities can play – so it’s important to have women in local leadership roles to give them a voice in their tennis communities,” Buckeridge continues. “The beauty of this sport is you can play on your own against a wall, with a partner or on a team. You can hit a ball for half an hour or join a social competition. There’s something for everyone and everyone belongs.”
Find the Right Tennis Racquet
With these top tips from tennis coach Tina Keown
#1 Test It Out
“Buying a racquet is a bit like buying a new car; you should take it for a test drive. Head to a pro-shop to try out the demo racquets and find the right size and style for you.”
#2 Weigh It Up
“The same racquet can come in three or four different weights. It doesn’t necessarily depend on how big or strong you are – it’s personal preference, so get a feel for whether you’d like something heavier or lighter.”
#3 Invest Wisely
“Racquets can range from $89 to $379. The more expensive models are made from graphite instead of aluminium, so that’s the biggest difference. Like with most things, you get what you pay for.”
At Keown’s Academy, the students range from kindergarten age to 80. The programs include junior and adult coaching, competitions, cardio tennis workouts and court hire. “Physically and socially, tennis clubs are really good environments to learn, grow and gain confidence as well as motor skills,” says Keown.
In addition to the obvious physical benefits, tennis has added mental health wins, says performance psychologist David Barracosa of Condor Performance, which works with athletes here and overseas. “Physical exercise is good for relieving stress, releasing endorphins and having more energy,” he explains. “With tennis, there’s also the social connection, which is so important for mental health. Humans are social creatures – we’re not built to exist in isolation – so coming together on the court really lifts us up. When you play in a local league, there’s an accountability element, too. You want to show up for your team.”
Mia is much less likely to bail on her Wednesday arvo matches than her solo runs. “It’s just so much fun. The first time I won a match, I ran around the court holding the racquet above my head in a victory lap,” she says, with a smile. “The thing about tennis is that it forces me to be mindful; when I’m playing, I’m really present. I need that in my life.”
For intrigued first-timers, her advice is simple: “Just get out there and do it! It’s as easy as calling up your local club, messaging your friends or wandering down to the nearest court and borrowing a racquet.”
We’ll see you out there.
The athletes who are changing the game beyond the baseline.
Alongside her seven grand slam singles titles and Olympic gold medal, WH’s February cover star has Promoter of Gender Equality on her resume, with UNESCO recognising her fight for gender equality in sport.
In her role as Tennis Australia’s First Nations ambassador, Barty runs tennis clinics with Indigenous kids in the Northern Territory and champions the Racquets and Red Dust program, which brings the sport to remote communities.
Whiley was the youngest person to win the British national wheelchair tennis championships at 14. She’s now an Access Sport ambassador, supporting its mission to make community sports programs more accessible and inclusive.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley
The Evonne Goolagong Foundation’s motto is ‘Dream, believe, learn, achieve’. The program helps to provide opportunities to Indigenous kids by giving them access to development camps, tennis mentoring and school scholarships.
Source @womenshealth.com.au: Read more at : womenalive.org