Australian tennis looks to bounce back

As Phil Mercer reports, the road to the top is immensely challenging

Tennis is part of the essential soundtrack to an Australian summer: balls rocketing off strings, the squeal of overworked footwear on baking courts and the grunts of heavy exertion.

It's a sport that Australia once dominated. In the 1960s and '70s the nation built a triumphant global legacy - Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson and John Newcombe were imperious, while Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley became sporting royalty.

But since the early 1980s, Australia's women have claimed just a solitary Grand Slam singles title, and it's more than a decade since the evergreen Lleyton Hewitt became the last Aussie man to win a major, at Wimbledon in 2002.

Changing times?

The trophy drought has caused despair among the country's tennis aristocracy.

Lleyton Hewitt practises at the 2014 Australian Open The Open in Melbourne brings healthy revenues to Tennis Australia

"We just wondered where the next group of top players was coming from," says Rosewall, who won eight Grand Slam singles titles.

Australia's last 5 Grand Slam champs

  • Samantha Stosur - 2011 US Open
  • Lleyton Hewitt - 2002 Wimbledon and 2001 US Open
  • Pat Rafter - 1998 and 1997 US Open
  • Pat Cash - 1987 Wimbledon
  • Evonne Goolagong Cawley 1980 Wimbledon (and in 1971, as well as French Open 1971, and Australian Open 1974, 75, 76, 77)

"I think we've just been unlucky that we haven't had a nucleus of top players that were ready to go along with Lleyton (Hewitt).

"Over that period of time Australian people were disappointed we were not doing better, but let's hope that has changed."

Bankrolled by the riches generated by the sale of TV rights at the Australian Open, Tennis Australia, the governing body, has been pouring money into community projects, hoping to unearth new gems.

Championship windfall

Start Quote

Tennis Australia decided to basically restructure the whole sport and put more money into the community”

End Quote Tim Harcourt University of New South Wales

"Tennis Australia puts the broadcast revenue into the grass roots, and I think that is why tennis is picking up in Australia like never before," explains Tim Harcourt, an economist at the University of New South Wales.

"There was a bit of a crisis in 2006 where there wasn't much Australian talent at the top and people were pulling out of tennis," he says.

"Tennis Australia decided to basically restructure the whole sport and put more money into the community - [money] that they were getting from [Roger] Federer and Serena Williams here... using those revenues more wisely."

The Australian Open provides a windfall not just for tennis.

It pumps around 238m Australian dollars (£130m; $214m) into the Victorian state economy.

Argentina's Juan Martín Del Potro signs autographs for fans in Melbourne Tennis has remained popular with Australian spectators

It attracts 800,000 spectators and visitors to Melbourne, while global television audiences top 300 million.

Tennis is one of the most popular sports on Australian TV but a local last won the first "slam" of the year in the 1970s. An impatient nation waits for a fresh generation of stars.

'Hard work'

At the Jaggard-Ibarrola Tennis Academy in Sydney's leafy northern suburbs, pint-sized warriors do battle in a junior competition.

Fernando Ibarrola, a former Argentinian professional Coaches say there can be a challenge making youngsters stick with tennis

The future of Australian tennis is in these eager, young hands, and from these hard-hitters there could emerge the champion that this sport-mad country is so desperate for.

But tennis, like other sports, often has problems keeping new recruits.

"Sometimes life for some youngsters can be a bit easy and they probably choose other ways, and in the past we had more people willing to do the hard work," said Fernando Ibarrola, a former Argentine professional, and coach at the centre.

A child's passion can be expensive and time-consuming for parents, and making it to the top is unquestionably tough, requiring precocious talent, and sacrifice.

"You've got to have a package, and that's the hardest thing to be a really good player. You can't just have a good technique, you've got to be physically very good, you've got to be mentally very sound and tactically understand well," explained Michelle Jaggard, an ex-Australian Federation Cup player.

"On the court they really have to put their child mind off the court and become a bit more adult thinking, and it is not an easy thing to do because they want to be kids."

'Train and train'

Shanté Lai hits the ball as deftly as any 10-year-old in the competition.

She trains for 10 hours a week with professional coaches, and along with doubles partner Chelsea Pernice, lists the verve and grit of Serena Williams as her guiding principles, although the girls admit that their schedules are taxing.

Sam Stosur holds the US Open trophy in 2011 Sam Stosur's US Open win in 2011 has given hope to young Australian players

"I miss sometimes my friends because I have tournaments and training," says Shanté.

"But if you really want to be up in the top 10 and you are really passionate about it, you do anything to be up there to be playing tennis for your life," adds Chelsea, 12.

"I just think that to myself when I miss out on a birthday party or a sleepover, it doesn't matter - you can have plenty of them in your life after your tennis career. Just train and train."

'Really tough'

Start Quote

There is no way we are going to get back to where we were”

End Quote Todd Woodbridge Former doubles champion and head of professional development

Success at the very top does filter down to the grass roots, and serves to encourage those who are willing to put in the serious work.

Sam Stosur's triumph at the US Open in 2011 did lift Australian spirits, but as the global business of tennis becomes more lucrative and the competition intensifies, the nation's past domination of world tennis seems unlikely to be repeated.

"When I was coming along in the late '80s, early '90s, there were about 1,000 players ranked on tour," said Todd Woodbridge, an ex-Grand Slam doubles champion and former head of professional development at Tennis Australia.

"Now there are 2,000. So, when we look at those glory days and that of Australian tennis, we have to be realistic and say we were a really big fish in a small pond back then and now we are just one of the numbers that make up this sport.

"To be honest there is no way we are going to get back to where we were. We might get one player but it is going to be really tough to get the numbers we once had."

Success, of course, is measured in many ways.

For Australian tennis, it's not just about glory at the elite level but also the social and health dividends of encouraging more people, especially children, to pick up a racquet and to savour the sound of a sweetly struck forehand.

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories


BBC Business Live

    11:30: APPLE CAR

    Is there no aspect of our lives that Apple doesn't want to run? Are we headed for a world run by corporations with rollerball as entertainment? It sometimes feels like it when you come across stories like this one in the Telegraph. The newspaper reports that Apple has filed a patent that could see your iPhone do things like unlock your car and start its engine.

    11:15: YEAR OF THE JAGUAR?
    Range Rover Evoque

    Jaguar Land Rover has opened its first full overseas manufacturing plant, in China, the Daily Mail reports today. The first model to be built there will be the Range Rover Evoque. Jaguar production is to follow. The new Changshu factory near Shanghai will have a production capacity of 130,000 units, but only for the Chinese market.

    11:02: UK MANUFACTURING BBC Radio 4

    "The idea that manufacturing just disappeared from the UK just isn't right. If anything we actually produce slightly more in the UK now than we did in the 1970s," Joe Grice, chief economist at the Office for National Statistics told Today... er... earlier today. But employment in the sector is only about a third of what it was in the 1970s, he adds. The reason, believe it or not, is that productivity has improved. That feels like another way of saying there are more machines doing the work humans used to do. There is a conference today to try to find out.

    BANK OF ENGLAND MINUTES 10:44: Via Email

    And right on cue economist, Howard Archer says he has recently put back his forecast for the first interest rate hike "from February to mid-2015". Given there is a general election in May 2015, June would appear to be the earliest month that an interest rate rise can take place. He also now believes interest rates won't rise above 1% next year, that's down from an original forecast of 1.25% by the end of 2015. Great news for borrowers, but pretty awful news for savers who have already endured five-and-a-half-years of near zero rates.


    It gets worse. "Analysis by Bank staff suggested that the output gap, while continuing to fall, was estimated to be slightly larger in the second half of the year than had been previously expected," say the minutes. Roughly translated that means there is more "slack" in the economy than forecast in the August inflation report. What does that mean? Well, taken together with this year's anaemic wage growth and falling inflation don't be surprised if economists start pushing forecasts for an interest rate rise back to June 2015.


    It appears that the fall in the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation caught out the MPC. Today's minutes show September's fall to 1.2% was 0.3 percentage points lower than Bank staff expected in September and 0.5 percentage points lower than incorporated into the August Inflation Report.

    09:58: CITY POWERS BBC Radio 4

    Jim O'Neill, the former Goldman Sachs man who invented the acronym BRICS, to describe the group of emerging markets has turned his attention to the devolution of government powers to the the UK's regions and cities. He tells Today cities should be able to spend much more of the local taxes they collect with a system of centrally available grants to help top up funds. His report also has the backing of the Chancellor. Mr O'Neill says he would be very surprised if at least some of his recommendations are not adopted in the Autumn Statement.

    The Bank of England

    No changes in the vote in October. The Monetary Policy Committee stuck in the same position for the third month in a row voting 7 to 2 to hold interest rates at 0.5%.

    09:18: TESLA SALE

    Mercedes-owner Daimler says it will make $780m (£485m) from selling a 4% stake it owns in electric car maker Tesla. A cooperation agreement to supply Mercedes-Benz cars with Tesla battery technology remains unaffected by the sale, Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche said.

    09:01: MARKET UPDATE

    It's a bit of a mixed bag on the markets this morning. The FTSE 100 is down a touch (0.15%) at 6362.69. But Germany's Dax is up 0.50% at 8930.37 and France's Cac-40 is up 0.13% at 4086.47. The biggest faller on the FTSE 100 is BAT down nearly 4% to 3334.5p on those declining cigarette sales volumes.

    Home Retail share graph

    ...and consequently so has its share price. The group is down 4.3% to 168p on the news of those Homebase store closures. Share slumped 6% at the open so have recovered slightly, 40 minutes into the trading day.

    TESCO WOES Via Blog Kamal Ahmed BBC Business editor

    "Tomorrow, Tesco will reveal its latest results. Sales and profits are likely to be down again," BBC Business Editor Kamal Ahmed writes in his latest blog. "Many believe that Tesco should move away from vouchers and one-off price promotions and win back customers with lower prices across all its ranges."

    A Homebase store in Stanford near Lincolnshire.

    Despite talking up the prospects for its full year profits, Home Retail is closing 25% of its 323 Homebase stores over the next four years. That's as it lets leases expire on some properties. Homebase managing director Paul Loft is also stepping down, although he will continue on in his role until a successor is found.


    Homebase and Argos owner Home Retail Group has reported a 5% fall in half-year pre-tax profit to £13.5m. But like-for-like sales were up 2.9% at Argos, and 4.1% at Homebase. Chief executive, John Walden said the group expects to meet City expectations for its full year profit. But he added: "as always, the full-year outcome will depend upon the important Argos Christmas trading period".

    Cigarettes in their package

    Cigarette-pedlar BAT has said revenue for the nine months to the end of September grew by 2.4%. "Industry volume has declined at a lower rate than last year, but is being impacted by large excise-driven price increases," it said.

    SUPERGROUP Via Twitter James Quinn Executive Business Editor, Telegraph

    tweets: "Strong comeback from Sutherland who fell victim to all he tried to achieve at the Co-op Group, and can be credited with rescuing Co-op Bank."

    07:29: SUPERGROUP
    SuperGroup chief executive, Euan Sutherland,

    Former Co-op Group chief executive Euan Sutherland is back having been announced as chief executive of SuperGroup this morning with immediate effect. He was previously CEO of Kingfisher UK, which operates B&Q, Screwfix and TradePoint.

    07:21: GERMAN GROWTH BBC Radio 4

    Germany has very low unemployment, Dr Stephanie Hare, senior analyst for western Europe at Oxford Analytica tells Today. "Making more jobs for Germany isn't the issue here," she says. "We need stimulus and investment in countries that are going to help boost the future of Germany's trading partners in the eurozone. So we can either increase demand in Germany, or Germany could be part of a wider European solution to increase stimulus in its eurozone trading partners." She points out Germany has benefitted from other countries investing and stimulating its economy once or twice in the past century.

    07:11: EUROTUNNEL

    Eurostar results yesterday, Eurotunnel results today. Revenues for the third quarter of 2014 increased 7% to €343.9m (£271.5m).

    06:57: UK BORROWING Radio 5 live

    "The main reason tax receipts aren't as high as you'd like is the increase in personal tax allowance," says Alan Clarke, UK and eurozone economist at Scotiabank on Wake Up to Money. He's talking about yesterday's disappointing figures. There are more people in work, though, which means less spending on benefits, he says. Low-paid jobs mean that doesn't help as much as you may think, points out presenter Mickey Clark.

    06:47: GERMAN GROWTH BBC Radio 4

    Christian Schultz, senior economist at Berenberg Bank, tells the Today programme Germany needs to work on its infrastructure, but even if it started to work on inward investment now the effects would not be felt for several years. This as more political pressure builds on Germany to act to avert another eurozone crisis. But German inward investment doesn't solve the problem, he says. "How does Germany fixing some bridges make French and Italian entrepreneurs invest more?"

    06:34: STORM POWER

    The UK's wind farms generated more power than its nuclear power stations on Tuesday, the National Grid says. The energy network operator said it was caused by a combination of high winds and faults in nuclear plants. Wind made up 14.2% of all generation and nuclear offered 13.2%. As BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin reports, for a 24-hour period yesterday, spinning blades produced more energy than splitting atoms.

    06:24: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    On things like transport and education, local government can make better decisions, says Alexandra Jones, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, which does independent research and policy analysis on UK city economies on 5 live. "Whatever you're doing in a city, you have to balance the books, though, she says. Competitiveness on tax becomes a "race to the bottom" she adds.

    06:13: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    "I think there's real momentum... this is the biggest opportunity in decades to transport the relationship with local government," says Mr Wakefield on 5 live. The debate for Scottish independence shows there are a lot of people interested in local powers, he adds.

    06:04: CITY POWERS Radio 5 live

    Allowing UK cities to make their own decisions on tax and spending could boost economic growth by £79bn a year by 2030, a year-long study has concluded. "More people want local powers in Leeds," says Councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council on Radio 5 live. He thinks councils can target some spending more efficiently.

    06:01: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Good morning! Get in touch via email at or on twitter @BBCBusiness

    06:00: Matthew West Business reporter

    Morning all. We have the latest minutes from the Bank of England's September Monetary Policy Committee meeting at 09:30; Argos and Homebase owner Home Retail Group publishes interim results before that and there are trading updates from GlaxoSmithKline, British American Tobacco and Everything Everywhere. We'll bring you it all as it happens.



From BBC Capital


  • St John's, CanadaThe Travel Show Watch

    It’s a ships’ symphony – listen to these freighters in Canada play music with their horns

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.