Wimbledon fortnight is about to start - but not as we know it. York tennis coach - and former Wimbledon player - MARIUS BARNARD reports on tennis under lockdown

GET your strawberries and Pimms at the ready. And dust down your tennis racquets to prepare for a summer of tennis - the perfect socially distanced sport.

Game, set and matches...

Wimbledon “The Greatest Championships” starts on the BBC from today but rather than have live matches (the tournament was cancelled because of Covid-19), it will show more than 50 hours of recordings from previous years’ Championship.

BBC2 will cover week nights at 8pm and "The Greatest Finals" will be shown on what would have been the final weekend.

Murray is back!

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Andy Murray, twice Wimbledon champion

Last week saw the first Schroders Battle of the Brits tournament where Andy Murray recorded his first win since the Davis Cup last year.

It has been a rollercoaster ride for the tennis governing bodies over the past few months with nothing left off the table in terms of discussions on prize money, tournament format, players support packages, fan base and interaction.

Even the merging of the ATP and WTA Tours were up for discussion while 15 million viewers watched Andy Murray and Kiki Bertens battle for the Mutua Madrid Open Virtual Pro 2020 title.

Less positively, Novak Djokovic is in the headlines, having tested positive with Covid-19 along with other stars and his wife just weeks before his planned visit to New York for the Cincinnati Masters and the US Open.

Tennis in York

But what about effect the pandemic has had on local tennis and local players in particular?

At the start of the pandemic it was clear that all forms of tennis including leagues had to be called off over the 2020 season. The inactivity, confined work spaces, families having to co-exist, technostress and work overload all added to the pressure on wellbeing at home. Could sport help to alleviate these circumstances?

A social distancing sport!

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Fortunately because of the easily maintained social distancing in tennis (especially in singles) it was one of the first sporting activities to be re-instated after lockdown.

People have since flocked to local clubs and parks to play individually or in families.

Tennis clubs countrywide have embraced the stream of new and former players returning.

The LTA - the sport's governing body - has supported this big push with getting Britain back to playing, including the recent ‘Play Your Way’ call to action. People are encouraged to hit tennis balls wherever they can.

Tennis for everyone

The LTA wants to make tennis relevant, accessible, welcoming and enjoyable for everyone. LTA support schemes include: collaboration with local authorities for park accessibility, ‘Rally’ collects and displays availability of coaches and courts, coach relief funds, gate access codes, local tennis leagues partnerships etc.

Quick Access loan schemes up to 250,000 are available to support low-cost court covering, building work, disabled player usage, resurfacing, floodlights, and padel tennis.

Adapt and change

Tennis and its capacity to adapt and change has served a brilliant purpose in getting people back playing again and have social interaction outside of home. I have seen and heard about scores of new players taking up the game including lots of families. It is a great social game and people often overlook the life lessons that tennis can teach with regard to self-reliance, self-belief, decision making and negotiating.

Tennis is good for you

People who were shielding in particular were itching to get back to their weekly routine of playing. The regular exercise and social interaction have a dual benefit on a player’s health with an overall boost to wellbeing.

In 2016 a comprehensive research project at Oxford University included 80,306 people found startling discoveries about the benefits of tennis to health in comparison to other sports, especially among the ageing population. These regular weekly games of social tennis improved chances of not having heart failure or stroke by 56 per cent. Running and swimming had slightly lower rates of benefit whilst the benefit of football, netball, hockey and rugby are often compromised by injuries, limiting playing longevity.

Wimbledon's got it covered

York Press:

Strawberries at Wimbledon

Wimbledon has insured against a pandemic like Covid-19 and will receive compensation in the region of £100 million, hopefully some of these funds will be ploughed back into the sport. The other two remaining Grand Slams will take place in September and October with a long list of different regulations in place. The US Open is planning to move players only between the airport, hotel and the USTA Billy Jean King NTC with venturing to Manhattan off limits.

The officials responsible for player’s safety in New York will be on higher alert after the latest Djokovic escapade in Croatia.

New normal

The new normal in tennis has been under discussion for the last few months. Even before lockdown the need for towels and ball persons etc were under the spotlight.

During lockdown, debates have taken a very different and global direction. Everything has suddenly been under the microscope and up for debate: Is prize money distributed fairly? Should lower ranked players get financial help? Should the ATP and the WTA merge tours? Is the current format sustainable or should we opt for more exciting shorter formats with players interacting in real time with commentators and spectators

Finally, and as a former professional, I have been delighted to see all seven main stakeholders in tennis come together with a decision to support over 800 lower ranked players with a financial relief package in excess of $6 million. So much positive change can follow major disruption and it looks like tennis has ceased the initiative.

Now people across Britain are picking up their rackets and hitting balls. Now is the time to play! Contact your local tennis club, park or professional as lots of different offerings are available in 2020.

Marius Barnard lives in York and is a performance executive coach, tennis professional and speaker. More at: www.mariusbarnard.com