This Sporting Chiswick – Chiswick Tennis Club

Image above: Wimbledon; photograpny David Kenny – davidkenny91

Once more unto the tennis court

Guest blog by James Thellusson

It’s that time of year again. Wimbledon fortnight. The most elegant of interludes in the sporting calendar, when the eyes of the world turn towards the home of the Wombles, to ooh and aah as tanned tennis players whiff and waff a ball the size of a peach at each other at an average speed of 75mph.

Wimbledon. Is any place so synonymous with a sporting event? Roland-Garros, the French Open, could easily be mistaken for a Michelin stared chef. Flushing Meadows could be a care home or a festival for embarrassed people, not the venue for the US Open.

But whisper “Wimbledon and everyone knows what you’re talking about. Strawberries. 38 tonnes of them picked fresh with the dew every morning before being crowned with 10,000 litres of cream and washed down with 300,000 servings of Pimm’s, an eccentric British fruit juice.

The oldest tennis championship, played on grass as perfect as a billiard table, is the magic money tree of British tennis and a major equity holder in British identity.

Every year Wimbledon triggers a tsunami of tennis triallists inspired by the relentlessly high-quality tennis on show. Last year, according to the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the number of adults playing the game surged to over 4m from 3m in part because of it.

Image above: The all-weather courts at Chiswick Tennis Club

“The Wooden Racket Brigade”

I ask Howard Burwood, director of the Chiswick Tennis club, if he expects a wave of Wimbledon inspired people this year.

“Ah,” he says. “The wooden racket brigade.”

“Wooden rackets?”

“It’s a phrase to describe those who come back to the game again after a long interval inspired by Wimbledon. They dig out their old rackets from the cupboard and head off to the nearest court. It’s a metaphor, not an insult,” he says, smiling.

I laugh. I’ve got a medal for long-service in the Wooden Racket Brigade. Every year, I wrestle a plastic racket from the spiders in the basement and head out to ‘knock up’ in the hope my game will have got better from a long winter’s hibernation, ignoring the fact the strings on racket are as soft as the noodles in a ramen soup.

“If you were advising someone returning to the game, would you suggest they buy a new racket or a new pair of shoes?” I ask, hoping for expert advice on how little I can invest in this summer’s attempt to re-engage with the game.

“Shoes, I think,” says Howard.

Howard points at his four recently repaired and resurfaced all weather courts.

“Good footwear stops you slipping and falling. That’s not the hardest of surfaces by a long way but generally you want to stay upright if you can,” he chuckles.

Image above: Chiswick Tennis Club gardens

The Chiswick Tennis club started life as the Riverside club in 1920 where the Chiswick Marina is. It is now located off Burlington Lane adjacent to the Chiswick War Memorial homes, which were built for disabled ex-servicemen and women in 1922. During Covid, the club worked with Help for Heroes to open its facilities to residents at the Memorial homes “to help them deal with the claustrophobic challenges of being ‘locked down’,” according to Howard.

The club doesn’t claim any famous alumni but Fred Perry, the most successful British tennis player of all time, whose laurel leafed short-sleeved polo shirts became the uniform of choice for Mods and Skinheads, played at the club in his day.

The club leases its facilities from Hounslow council and is responsible for the upkeep and look of the place. The facilities are not as fancy as Wimbledon’s, but the place is in very good nick. The courts are hidden from roads by well-maintained green high privet hedges and rose bushes lined the courts in front of the clubhouse. It’s kept pristine by a dedicated bunch led by the committee.

“Years ago, the club almost went bankrupt. Members struck a new deal with the council, dug into their pockets and effectively refinanced the club with their own money. Now we’ve just completed surfacing the courts and are in a stable well managed situation.”

The club’s stability comes from a partnership with Christian Gallen, who runs a tennis coaching company called Love Tennis, which uses the club’s facilities to coach tennis players. The club’s clubhouse, which does not include a bar, is also rented out to locals to generate income.

“We have ballet, bridge, Pilates and yoga and other groups here using the facilities on a regular basis,” says Howard, who fell in love with tennis in his mid-thirties while working for the Navy in Plymouth.

Images above: Chiswick Tennis Club; photographs from the club website

The 140 members of the club are split roughly equally across the age groups and genders. Fees range from about £50-75 for juniors to £340 for adults. Many members play regularly and the club is busy through the week. It is not on a recruitment drive.

“We’ve got a small waiting list but are close to the maximum number we need to balance the need between fees and the ability for members to play the amount of tennis they want.”

Asked how he would describe the club, Howard says “friendly” and “family friendly.”

“We play a lot of social tennis with each other. We also have a men’s and women’s team who play more competitively in the Middlesex League.”

The Chiswick Tennis Club is one of several in W4. There’s the superbly endowed Virgin Active club on Riverside Drive, the pay and play facilities at Duke’s Meadows and the ‘Will to Win’ centre, which would be an apt name for a scholastic retreat for students of Friedrich Nietsche, if it hadn’t already been claimed. So, if you’ve caught the Wimbledon bug there are plenty of local options to indulge your fever.

As you read this, the ball boys and girls of Wimbledon will have already taken the knee at the umpire’s chair a thousand times or more. Braziers will be burning with hopefulness on Henman Hill and the nation will be praying for Murray or Norrie (or some new King or Queen) to interest us in eating strawberries and cream for a full fat fortnight.

I am too pessimistic to get excited about a British victory at Wimbledon. It is a dream that is likely to disappoint, like a warm pint of Pimm’s. But that does not mean I will let this Wimbledon go by without renewing my membership of the Wooden Racket Brigade.

Just like every other year, I plan to give the game another chance. (Or should that be the other way round?). I’ve already been down to the cellar and found a grass-stained pair of Stan Smith trainers. The soles are as smooth as the Elgin marbles, but they’re back in fashion, according to my son, and I’ve decided that’s more important than breaking an ankle. (Sorry, Howard).

Once more unto the tennis court, dear friends. Once more.

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