Ilkley set-up can help in battle to provide future British stars

GREG RUSEDSKI believes tennis is making positive strides to rid itself of its elitist image.

The former British No.1 insists the sport is making concerted efforts to reach out into schools and deprived inner-cities across the country.

Speaking at Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club on Saturday, where he unveiled a new 700,000 refurbishment of five indoor tennis courts, Rusedski said the game was no longer just for the affluent minority.

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He believes its appeal is expanding all the time through the work being done by the game's authorities.

"Going into the schools and inner cities is very important and that's what we're trying to do through the various projects of the Tennis Foundation and the Lawn Tennis Association," said Rusedski, who fired down some of his trademark huge serves during Saturday's event and also hit some balls with the Ilkley club's talented young players.

"There's still a long way to go and not everything's perfect, but we're trying to head in the right direction and make the game more accessible to everyone."

Rusedski conceded tennis had a way to go to lessen the gap with more popular sports such as football.

"In financial terms, football is not as financially tasking as tennis," he added. "In tennis, you obviously need a racquet, you need a court, you need this, that and the other, whereas in football you pretty much only need a ball.

"It's all about getting the opportunities to the kids in the first place and getting them to places such as Ilkley where they can develop their games and hone their skills.

"What we're trying to do is get the kids starting out because we haven't really done that in the past.

"It's all about communication. We haven't had a database in the past, for example, where we've registered kids and then followed them like they do in football.

"Initially, there has to be an opportunity for children to play tennis, children need to have the desire and support from their parents and then you can get the coaches out to them.

"That's why we're trying to take the game to people and trying to get a better level of communication going."

Rusedski, whose mother hails from Dewsbury, was full of praise for the new refurbishment at Ilkley, which has improved on already outstanding facilities.

During the last few months the club has overhauled and refurbished its indoor courts to complement 14 grass courts, six all-weather floodlit courts, five squash courts and a state-of-the-art gymnasium.

"I think the facilities here are absolutely fantastic and everyone has done a brilliant job," he said. "It's a wonderful place to come and the work being done here can only encourage more children to take up tennis."

Despite insisting British tennis is working steadily to attract more youngsters and boost its profile, Rusedski sounded a note of caution.

"One thing that does need to change is that we sometimes get too carried away if any youngster in this country shows a bit of potential," he declared. "Likewise, we can be much too quick to write off people too young.

"Tim Henman, for example, was overlooked in his younger days but he was the one who got to world No.4 and had fantastic runs at Wimbledon.

"Tim was 21 when he broke into the top 100, and it's not always the ones who you think are going to blossom who actually blossom.

"We have to be patient with the kids coming through."