Tennis rallies amid pandemic as participation soars
Juliet Mann

Like all spectator sports, tennis has been hit hard by COVID-19 – but for people looking for a safer game to play during the pandemic, it has proved to be a winner.

From the Olympic Games being postponed to countless sporting championships being cancelled outright, the coronavirus crisis played a cruel hand to spectator sports. Now, the US Open tennis tournament is going ahead, but behind closed doors. And the plan at the moment is for a limited number of fans to be allowed at the French Open this month.

But tennis had been a good alternative for the less professional among us and it was one of the first sports to be permitted again in the UK after lockdown, as players are outdoors and it is easier to keep to social distancing rules. 


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It has led to surge in Britons playing the sport.  

"This summer has been mad," said Sebastien Bernard, tennis coach at Mercury Tennis Club, in northwest London.

"We had to manage bookings in a different way. This place here is very low-key, quiet, friendly, but not massively populated. Suddenly we had courts booked from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. And so we had to manage numbers, but safely," he said.

The crowd has changed a little, too.

"Usually you see people play between [the ages of] five and 14 and then 35 and over. But this summer it was just a young crowd. All the ones who couldn't actually get fit in the gym, couldn't go to the pool, couldn't go to the pub and who heard that tennis was the only, well one of the only, sports allowed," said Bernard.


Serena Williams, right, taps rackets with Tsvetana Pironkova at the US Open, which is currently taking place. /Al Bello/Getty Images

Serena Williams, right, taps rackets with Tsvetana Pironkova at the US Open, which is currently taking place. /Al Bello/Getty Images


Traditional tennis clubs across Britain have had a rush of new members. But public court bookings have risen, too.

The Lawn Tennis Association says the number of people playing tennis rose sharply when lockdown restrictions were eased. Court bookings in parks and public spaces bounced up 372 percent in the UK this summer. The highest demand came on 14 June, when there were more than 26,000 bookings.


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The Lawn Tennis Association said its investment drive to get more people into the swing of tennis has played a part.

"We know that local authorities across the country are struggling right now and we have come in with an offer to ensure that we can support them making their tennis facilities sustainable for the long term and to help drive people from that local community to those courts to enjoy playing tennis," said Olly Scadgell, the association's participation director.

Campaigns such as "Play Your Way" to help local authorities improve accessibility to their public park tennis courts and "LTA Rally" were launched this summer, both coinciding with the spike in demand for tennis.

"A barrier to accessing tennis is finding and accessing a tennis court and finding someone to play with, and LTA Rally helps to try to address that by a simple and easy digital journey for people who want to find their local tennis facility, book it and access it and ultimately find someone to play with," Scadgell said.

"Tennis just generally, regardless of lockdown, is a sport that is gender balanced, it is open to anyone, you can play it from the age of three to 83 and it is a sport for all the family. So I think it is very well positioned to be an activity that anyone can enjoy – I think that has helped encourage, drive and inspire the participation that we have seen."

From grassroots up to the grand slams, tennis is adapting to new times.

Check out our new six-part podcast series Notes on a Pandemic as CGTN Europe finds out how business, science and people have risen to the challenge of COVID-19.