Tennis: League to net clubs

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The Independent Online
BRITISH tennis has followed the Continental example by launching a National Club League, which is to be sponsored by the Everest home improvement company with a pounds 300,000 investment over three years.

While attracting the nation's leading male and female players, the chief purpose of the exercise will be to involve 10,000 competitors from nearly 1,000 clubs in raising standards and the general level of interest in the sport.

The Everest National Club League will consist of a Premier Division (two leagues of six clubs, the winning teams playing off for the championship) with promotion and relegation linking the peak to the foothills of Regional Divisions and County Divisions.

Total prize money will be pounds 20,000, with the clubs winning the men's and women's Premier Leagues receiving pounds 3,000 each and pounds 2,000 going to the runners-up. A further pounds 60,000 will be used for team expenses and staging the play-offs and finals.

Next year, the Premier Division will be played in May, Regional Division matches will take place in March, April, May and June, and County Division fixtures will be completed by the end of September.

The venture is not a rehash of the Mortgage Corporation National League, an ill-fated inter-city team competition of one-set matches played at indoor centres. National Club League matches will be decided over the best of three sets, with four singles contests and two doubles.

Ian Peacock, the executive director of the Lawn Tennis Association, described the National Club League as 'the last piece in the jigsaw in the restructuring of the British tournament scene'.

John Feaver, the LTA's director of events and tournaments, made the point that 'similar leagues operating on the Continent have proved highly successful'. It took the German league 20 years to become the model others strive to match, Feaver added. 'While we are looking to develop along their lines over the long term, we may reach the level of the French and Swiss leagues in two years,' he said.

Jeremy Bates is one of the British players who have competed in the German league. Andrew Castle, the national champion, is another. 'I never wanted to play in Germany, and I think British players are going to be keen to compete for their own clubs,' he said.

Though overseas players can be recruited, a rash of signings is not anticipated in the formative years.