US Open winner Emma Raducanu started her rise to greatness in the city of Liverpool when, aged just 13, she won her first ever under-18 tournament.
The hosts of that landmark event in Wavertree are now urging more young girls to come through the system in Liverpool and have already noticed an upsurge in enquiries since the 18-year-old’s inspirational Grand Slam victory.
“It’s fantastic that we now have a young, female British champion,” says David Hardman, tennis coordinator for the Liverpool Tennis Centre.
“We are already getting a lot more calls from people who are interested in tennis.”
Radacanu’s victory in Liverpool
Back in 2015, Radacanu beat a string of older players from all over the world to be crowned champion at the Liverpool Tennis Centre, but she only just qualified for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) junior event.
She turned 13 in November that year, just in time to participate at the lowest entry age in the under-18 tournament and became its youngest ever winner.
“There was a buzz about Emma in 2015 from the people involved,” Hardman told LiverpoolWorld.
“The age Emma won in Liverpool is the age a lot of girls walk away from the sport. She has made tennis a lot more relatable.”
Run by Northern Vision, the junior tournament in Wavertree gives young players the chance to get their first ITF points to start their careers.
Anders Borg, the founder of Northern Vision, told LiverpoolWorld: “We started the junior events to give local players a chance to play against the very best out there.
“Looking back to when Emma was in the event, I saw her practicing and she made a real impression. She returned every ball and had an incredible capacity to run around and not make mistakes.
“She competed against older players from other countries and handled it well. I thought she was one for the future.”
Making British tennis history
Five years on from making her mark in Liverpool, teenage sensation Radacanu won the 2021 US Open in September by beating Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, 19, in the final in New York.
The victory made her the first British women’s Grand Slam singles champion since Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon title in 1977.
Radacanu an inspiration for Merseyside girls
The ITF junior tournament has been played in Liverpool for over a decade and sees international players travel to the centre to take part.
The Liverpool Tennis Centre, which reopened last week after being used as a lateral flow COVID-19 test site, has just started a cardio tennis group for 9-17-year-old girls in a bid to encourage them to stay in sport.
“We had recognised the need for this before Emma won, girls might be put off at that age by the antics of teenage boys and also tend to take school more seriously,” Hardman explains.
As well as hosting international tournaments, the Liverpool Tennis Centre aims to make the game accessible to the local community.
It now boasts six indoor courts with the same surface used in the Australian Open, four all weather outdoor courts and has members from age three to 93.
Both David Hardman and his sister Laura have a background in playing tennis themselves. Tennis coach Laura Hardman is now running the new session for girls.
She says: “Drawing on my own experience as a teenage girl playing tennis and listening to feedback from girls who I am coaching now, I have just set up a girls cardio tennis session to offer a fun way for girls of all abilities to get together on court and hit lots of balls whilst enjoying being active to music.
“Tennis is a fantastic sport to be involved in, not only for the physical benefits but also for the social interactions it provides.
“Young girls, particularly teenagers, can quickly lose confidence in sport, as was my own experience. That’s why I wanted to create an environment on court for our female players to feel comfortable, confident and want to come back week after week.
“It’s important to offer these supportive spaces, so that more girls can enjoy the physical and mental benefits of tennis and we can continue to attract and retain female participation in the sport.
“Lots of girls have been discussing Emma’s win and commenting on how she has inspired them both on and off the court.
“Interest in the new sessions is proving popular and reaction so far has been extremely positive from parents and players.
“A 9-year-old girl who has been playing tennis since she was five and was considering not coming to tennis anymore, saw our session in progress and asked if she can try it out next week.”
Jessica Humes, 12, has joined the new group. She told LiverpoolWorld : “Cardio tennis is really fun and gives me a chance to improve my tennis and fitness with friends.
“Emma Radacanu is an inspiration to all young girls and shows us to never give up.”
What Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said about Emma Raducanu
Reds boss Klopp described Raducanu as the “talent of the century” after he watched the US Open final.
“It is long ago [since] I watched a full tennis game and I was impressed by the power, the speed and the whole game,” the German explained.
“Women’s tennis is obviously in a brilliant moment. These two girls, 18 and 19, what they showed in the game was massively impressive, but then when they got the trophies during the ceremony, both girls how they spoke was really inspiring, to be honest.
“Even more so than the tennis which was inspiring enough. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the way they presented themselves. Fernandez was obviously disappointed and Emma showed great respect for her.
“They knew they will face each other in the future very often and be in many more finals. I wish that for them. It was a great show of sportsmanship and elite sport and how humble you can be, so young on top of the world.
“When you are 18-years-old and win the US Open it can only come from hard work. She is for sure the talent of the century, but without hard work it is not possible to be there and doing that.
“Now she is there and you see her smiling during the game, it is the nicest thing I can imagine. I will watch women’s tennis much more, for sure, than I did in the last few years.”
Raducanu has since thanked the Liverpool boss for his praise and told Sky Sports she was grateful to him for raising the profile of women’s tennis.
The lowdown on the Liverpool tennis tournaments
Norwegian-born Anders Borg, a former London city trader, set up Northern Vision in 2002, a sport event management, academy and marketing company with offices in Liverpool and Oslo.
Northern Vision runs both the ITF junior tournament which started in 2012 and the Liverpool International Tennis Tournament, an international four-day tennis exhibition event played annually as a grass court warm-up event before Wimbledon.
The tournament has been held since 2014 at Aigburth Cricket Ground in Liverpool and was previously played at Calderstones Park.
Since the company started tennis events in the city in 2002, Liverpool has played host to burgeoning talent and big name tennis stars such as Danish former professional tennis player Caroline Wozniacki and Serbian world number one player Novak Djokovic.
Liverpool-born brothers Ken and Neal Skupski have also taken part. Neal won the Wimbledon mixed-doubles finals this year partnering American tennis player Desirae Krawczyk.
A stepping stone to greatness
Northern Vision has a philosophy of encouraging the development of children and young people using sport to ‘break down social boundaries, build team spirit and develop critical social skills’, along with the added bonus of potentially finding future stars.
Borg believes it is “extremely important” for local tennis clubs to organise fun practices, competition and team trips to keep girls on the court and engaged during early teenage years.
Borg says Raducanu never returned to Liverpool because she moved up the rankings straight away and went on to play at even more competitive events.
“Obviously I should have signed her up then and there to become her agent,” he laughs wistfully.
“I actually thought the same about Novak, who played in Liverpool and has gone on to be the greatest of all time.”
Making tennis accessible
In 2015, Northern Vision organised the largest tennis lesson in the world and invited children from schools around Liverpool to take part as a way of introducing them to tennis.
Borg says: “We had over 800 children turn up and it is still a Guinness World Record. People might think I’m a crazy Norwegian, but it’s vital to keep kids engaged.
“I used to work in the city in banking, but I needed to do something closer to my heart which is why I set up Northern Vision.
“We were initially looking for a public park in England to bring tennis to the community and we had two choices between Hampstead Heath in London or Calderstones Park in Liverpool.
“I decided on Calderstones as I thought Liverpool was perfect for what I wanted to do. My colleagues in London thought I was mad, but I knew it was the place.”
Borg says the tournaments don’t receive any funding from Liverpool City Council which he says has been “very difficult” with some events being on the brink of cancellation several times.
“I hope the council’s new administration will see how important our work is for tennis, kids in the region and sport in general,” he adds.
Northern Vision now organises events in England, Norway and Spain and is planning another Liverpool junior event in November this year.
“Who knows, we may have another Raducanu,” says Borg, “This time, I will have the contract ready.”