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Elbow room for British tennis

A new nationwide initiative that aims to identify and nurture Britain's tennis stars of the future has been launched by Tim Henman, Britain's number one tennis player.

The initiative is being run by 18 Esporta Racquets Academies in the UK, an offshoot of Esporta health clubs. The venture is also supported by the Tennis First Charitable Trust, of which Henman is a patron.

Tennis coaches from the clubs will form links with local schools with a view to providing tailor-made tennis provision for pupils. Talented children will be invited to become members of the Racquets Academies and will be helped with coaching, trips in the UK and abroad, and equipment if necessary. (Usually, children can only join with their parents, but this stipulation will be waived.) According to Henman, the emphasis would be placed on encouraging children from poorer backgrounds. "Tennis in the UK is far too often perceived as an elitist sport for privileged children," he said. "We want to broaden its appeal."

The scheme was targeting schools and younger children because "giving children opportunities at an early age is important - otherwise we lose them to other sports", he said.

The scheme has already been in operation at the Chiswick Racquets Academy, where current young stars include Joe Salisbury, 11, who is ranked joint number one in Britain in his age group.

Joe has represented Great Britain against top players of the same age from other countries, and reached the finals of the 11-and-under national clay court championships this summer. He is a "scholarship player" at the Chiswick Racquets Academy, and attends King's College Junior School in Wimbledon.

"I come out of games to practice at the club," he said. "If I didn't come here I'd have to go quite a long way to, say, the county centre. It's easy to get here and I get expert coaching."

Esporta Racquets Clubs are located in Berkshire, Brentwood, Brighton, Cardiff, Chiswick, Coventry, Croydon, Glasgow, Grimsby, Hamilton, Litchfield, Manchester, Northwood, Oxford, Poole, Southampton, Sunderland and Swansea.

Carolyn O'Grady

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