A SCOTTISH elite tennis academy originally billed as a “pathway for champions” is to pack up and move to England after just three years.
The GB national tennis academy in Stirling was opened in 2019 in the hope of nurturing talented Scottish youngsters to follow in the footsteps of Andy and Jamie Murray, who collectively have 10 Grand Slam titles and grew up in nearby Dunblane.
But in what has been described by sports minister Maree Todd as a “disappointing” move, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) – the governing body of tennis in the UK – has announced it will close in two years at the end of its deal with the University of Stirling.
It was set up as a key part of the LTA’s 10-year performance strategy for British Tennis and the Principal and Vice Chancellor of the university, Professor Gerry McCormac, said it would “contribute significantly” to the development of tennis in Scotland.
Yet, the operation will now be moved south of the border to Loughborough, where the LTA’s other national academy is based.
Todd told The National: “It is disappointing the LTA have chosen to close the academy in Stirling.
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“Tennis Scotland continue to work with all athletes to allow them to reach their full potential and the Stirling facility will remain pivotal in achieving that aim.
“Tennis is currently seeing an increase in participation in Scotland, with over 8,000 new club members last year.
“sportscotland are working with the LTA and Tennis Scotland to deliver the Transforming Scottish Indoor Tennis Fund. This will see a significant investment into the development of Scottish indoor tennis facilities, with £15million committed by this partnership, which will help us achieve our vision of an active Scotland where everyone benefits from sport and physical activity for their physical, mental and social health .”
Some on social media have branded the LTA as “incompetent” following the move.
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The LTA said: “The LTA has been reviewing its player pathway for the most talented 14 to 18-year-old players to progress towards becoming professional players.
“Our goal was to look at how we could invest in a larger number of players to achieve the highest standards by the age of 18, and join up the academy environment more closely with the wider pathway.
“The outcome of that review is that we will work on plans for a single national academy operated by Loughborough University with Nottingham Tennis Center facilities as a supporting hub, as a result the Stirling national academy will close after 2024.
“We will simultaneously partner with Tennis Scotland on their updated performance strategy and plans to support more emerging Scottish talent to reach the elite end of the game.”
The academy has not been short of problems since its establishment. It was the brainchild of former LTA performance director Simon Timson, who then moved on to join Manchester City. Other coaches have also quit over time.
Blane Dodds, the chief executive of Tennis Scotland, had vowed it would be a “pathway for champions” but only one Scot has joined the academy program since its launch, with mostly English youngsters attending.
It is yet another sign of a major struggle to create a legacy from the Murray brothers’ success as they both edge closer to retirement age.
Andy and Jamie’s mum Judy Murray has spoken out a number of times about the state of many tennis courts across Scotland and how this is hampering the country’s chances of breeding new stars.
On social media she pointed out courts in East Kilbride and other parts of Lanarkshire, along with some in Maryhill, were in a shocking condition and urged the Scottish Government to act.
An LTA report last year warned 40 per cent of courts in the UK are “poor or unplayable”, harming the prospect of youngsters picking up a racquet.
And it said it needs £15 million to £20 million to bring 1,800 courts back into use.
Merchiston Tennis Academy in Edinburgh said the decision was a “shame” on Twitter and said it would be tough for parents and players to take.
“Always a shame when these types of decisions are made, especially for the parents and players involved, huge decisions made on a family level. Tennis has a unique pathway that is hard to understand,” said the academy.
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There are some steps being taken in Scotland to try and boost participation such as the approval of a £37.8m development between Bridge of Allan and Dunblane featuring 12 tennis courts just before Christmas. Six of the courts will be indoors, something which has been touted as crucial to increasing participation in Scotland.
Back by Judy, an application for planning permission in principle was first made way back in 2014 before it was initially rejected by Stirling Council the following year. After an appeal and years of negotiations, it’s finally got the green light.
A new £1.6m indoor center is also set to be built in Elgin which will have four courts. It was the first project to receive investment from the Transforming Scottish Indoor Tennis (TSIT) fund.
And it has recently been confirmed courts in East Kilbride at the John Wright Sports Center are to be revamped and reopened in time for summer.
But there is a sense this will still be a major blow for Tennis Scotland which now want to use funding to create an “enhanced” Scottish elite pathway.
The governing body is currently struggling to meet its target of doubling the number of indoor courts in Scotland from 112 to 225.
A Tennis Scotland spokesperson said: “We are in ongoing dialogue with the LTA to deliver an enhanced performance strategy and pathway for Scottish tennis talent.”