Wimbledon 2013: Number of girl players double on the tennis courts

As Wimbledon opens, the Heather and Laura bounce has hit the young

The number of girls regularly playing tennis has almost doubled in the past two years, as many fans point to "the Heather and Laura effect". And British stars Watson and Robson are set to inspire more youngsters shortly, as they walk on court to begin their Wimbledon campaigns.

Figures from the Lawn Tennis Association show that the number of Regularly Competing Juniors (RCJs) – those who play at least six recorded matches in competition a year – aged under-8 to under-12, has jumped from 4,200 in 2010 to almost 8,000 last year, with the biggest increases in the youngest category.

The number of 11- to 18-year-old LTA memberships has also risen by more than 10 per cent, to almost 112,000. An LTA spokesman said: "There's no definite reason for the rise in younger girls taking up the game but a lot of people point to the Heather and Laura effect."

The statistics will be a relief to the game's governing body as all eyes turn for two weeks to SW19 and Andy Murray's annual tilt at the title. With just three players in the men's and women's top 100, the LTA faces more scrutiny than ever to improve overall participation.

Sport England, the government body that distributes taxpayers' money to sports, warned the LTA last week that critical funding will be taken away unless it sees an improvement. It is withholding three years' funding, worth £10.3m, as it adopts a "wait and see" policy.

Its director, Phil Smith, said: "The track record of [overall] participation was pretty poor in the last four-year cycle. The LTA presented a plan to us in December that we didn't feel [would] fix the problem."

Weekly tennis participation – over-16s playing for at least 30 minutes – has increased slightly in the past six months, to 424,300, but is still significantly down from a peak of more than 530,000 in 2009.

The LTA has launched a number of initiatives lately – such as 10,000 free rackets for schoolchildren this summer, plus free membership of British Tennis – but there are others promoting the game. Campaign group Tennis for Free runs more than 2,500 free courts as well as free coaching programmes.

The LTA has been set a target of 450,000 weekly participants by January. If that is missed a decision is likely to be made early next year to look elsewhere. Sport England reduced its tennis funding in December from £24.5m to £17.4m over the four-years to 2017 amid fears the LTA was wasting money.

But if Watson and Robson can survive into the second week of Wimbledon, with Andy Murray seeded to make the final, it will ease the pressure temporarily.

Mat Dunkley, head of performance at Riverside Tennis Club in Bedford, said that having role models in female tennis was essential: "It is great to have Watson and Robson as people we can use to encourage participation for girls, but also as examples of what can be achieved when coaching performance players."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn