The other night, Lindsay Davenport and John McEnroe were discussing on BBC TV the poor results of British tennis players in the opening round of this year’s Wimbledon Championships. They agreed that it’s tough at the moment, and not only in Britain, to develop a cohort of good young players. Many outreach schemes have been devised and inspirational players such as Venus and Serena Williams take part in them in the USA, but drawing youngsters into the game is an uphill task. Why? Lindsay remarked that today’s youngsters seem to gravitate more naturally to other kinds of softball games such as basketball. I don’t recall her exact words, but she said something like, ‘There just aren’t that many young people wanting to learn tennis any more.’
The words ‘any more’ surprised me. I had never thought of tennis as ‘old hat’. During the Wimbledon Championships, the only time I pay close attention, it seems such an appealing sport. Especially when the current crop of players contains people from all kinds of nations and backgrounds, such a wealth of good-looking athletes, and so many potential role models, it seems inexplicable that young people should find it resistible. The plus points of tennis remain the same as ever, so it must be the victim of some random and mysterious swing of fashion. And the thought suddenly struck me: maybe tennis has become the classical music of the sports world?