British success stories, from reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu to Britain’s best hope at Wimbledon this year, Cameron Norrie, have sparked a national boom in recreational tennis.
Since Emma Raducanu’s whirlwind win in New York last year, there has been a 10% increase in people aged 16 to 34 taking to their local courts, according to the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA).
More women are also getting into the game, with the number of women playing at least once a year having increased by 11% in the 12 months to May 2022.
Despite this, attendance at the first post-pandemic Championships has been down by the same percentage – suggesting the latest triple-figure ticket prices and coronavirus may be keeping the sport’s growing fanbase away.
John Golding, who leads London, South East and East of England operations for the LTA, said that Raducanu’s rise to fame is a major reason behind the popularity rise.
Mr Golding told the PA news agency: “Emma’s win last year was absolutely phenomenal and clearly did a lot of great things for British tennis.
“But it’s actually part of a much bigger movement.
“I’d like to think that a lot of the initiatives that the LTA has introduced has really helped on that.
“Plus the exposure of the other great players as well – we’ve already got two players in the fourth round, hopefully by the end of today that will be four, so we’re really seeing great things happening.
“We’re very proud as a sport to have a gender balance – 45% of participants are actually female – and we’re seeing rises in participation, so we’re actually 11% up in terms of where we were last year for (female) participation which is really good to see.”
The LTA’s chief executive, Scott Lloyd, added: “Ultimately it’s the success of British players on the court that provides that inspiration to keep that fanbase engaged.”
Katie Boulter, who made headlines for her emotional SW19 win on Thursday two days after her grandmother died, said that inspiring more young girls to pick up a racket was “one of the main reasons” she plays the sport.
The 25-year-old player from Leicester returned to the courts on Saturday but was knocked out of the competition by France’s Harmony Tan, who also dashed Serena Williams’s Wimbledon hopes in the first round.
When asked by PA during her post-match press conference how she felt about more women getting into tennis, Boulter smiled and said: “I mean, I think you can see my reaction to that.
“I think that’s absolutely incredible.
“I love to hear stuff like that because it’s one of the main reasons I play tennis.
“I hope that there are so many people that can get inspired, see someone out there with a story, playing in front of a lot of people, going: ‘You know what, I want to be that person’.
“To see that happening over Great Britain, it really does inspire even the players, even me, it inspires me to keep going.
“It really is great to see that and I hope we can continue that momentum.”
This week, Great Britain’s number one, Norrie, stormed through to the fourth round of the men’s singles with a straight-sets victory over the US’s Steve Johnson.
Fans broke out in screams and started football-style chants which 26-year-old Norrie told journalists he found “funny” and boosted his game.
Heather Watson also reached the last 16 at a grand slam for the first time in her career, after beating Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan in her third-round singles game.
The 30-year-old Guernsey-born player is returning to the hallowed grass courts on Saturday in two doubles matches.
Meanwhile Liam Broady, from Stockport in Greater Manchester, is playing his third-round match on Saturday against Boulter’s boyfriend and Australian number one Alex de Minaur.
Britain’s Jamie Murray also scored a win alongside tennis great Venus Williams in their doubles match against New Zealand’s Michael Venus and Polish player Alicja Rosolska on Friday.
Despite British success, attendance at the Championships over the opening four days is down 11% compared with 2019.
From Monday to Thursday this week, the cumulative number of spectators was 153,193 – the sparsest attendance since 2007 when 148,986 people turned up.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) told PA that the main courts were being fully booked each day but general ground passes were not selling out.
Officials added that any refunded Centre Court tickets were being resold on the website and bought “immediately”.
Reports have also claimed that contractors have warned temporary Wimbledon workers that they may be laid off due to the low turnout.
The AELTC told PA it was not asking contractors to cut staff.
An AELTC spokesman said: “We value all of the staff who help us to deliver the Championships, they are crucial to staging this world-class event.
“We meet annually with each of our major contractors to discuss our values around employment and these are shared with all potential employees.
“We are delighted that many of our staff choose to return to work at Wimbledon year after year and help us to put on an incredible event.”