The tennis season may have drawn to a close in its official capacity, as the ATP and WTA members take a well-earned rest before commencing their pre-season training. But it’s not entirely over, not for the tennis-watching public at least. Come the first week of December, the floor of the Royal Albert Hall will once again be turned into a tennis court as some of the legends of the game flock to South Kensington to compete in the Statoil Masters.
Beginning with the Winter Whites Gala in aid of Centrepoint, hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the round robin exhibition event will feature John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, Goran Ivanisevic, Tim Henman, and, in an inaugural Ladies’ day event, Britain’s Heather Watson.
The event has been running in one of the world’s most famous concert halls for some time, but this year marks the first of Statoil’s associations with it. But the Albert Hall Masters is not Statoil’s only involvement in tennis. They have also put their funds into something much closer to Wimbledon’s heart, the charity Give It Your Max.
Founded by All England Club member Michael Stotesbury in memory of his son Max, whose passion for tennis led to him assisting head coach Dan Bloxham with the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative, Give it your Max aims to fund tennis coaches to introduce and teach tennis to young children in the state sector.
“The idea is to introduce a game that is not familiar with primary aged kids in the state sector,” explains Stotesbury. “And we run all our initiatives in areas that are deprived, for example Reading (close to where Max went to school). We have been running that for about six years. Then Bradfield had a youth club in Peckham close to where Damilola Taylor died. So they were very keen to run one there which we now do in conjunction with Southwark Tennis Club.
“We would like to run one where there is a tennis club or hub so that if the kids are keen enough, they can come back for evening sessions and weekend tournaments. “
The scheme, which launched in 2005, has put a racket into the hands of around 30,000 children at programmes in Reading, Peckham, Canterbury & Orpington, Edgbaston, and, just down the road from the AELTC, Harris Academy in Mitcham. WJTI coach Jack Lane, who started off as a WJTI player, is the resident coach at Harris Academy, and there are close links between the centre and the AELTC.
“We have had an initiative of ours going there for three years probably,” explains Stotesbury. “ We are now jointly funding it with the WJTI, so Jack Lane is there most of the time and he was one of Dan’s original helpers up here going back many years and we have a cup which we awarded to Jack a few years ago. The kids also come up to the AELTC to take part in tournaments. So that is the association we have with Wimbledon, and of course Jack does a bit of work back here at Wimbledon so he comes to and fro. ”
Give it Your Max’s latest project is at Paddington Recreation Ground, supported by ambassadors Tim Henman, Sir Trevor McDonald, and Virginia Wade.
“They have cricket, hockey, 12 newly laid hard courts, but no tennis structure at all,” Stotesbury explains. “It is a very good place as they have fantastic facilities but no tennis structure. So our head coach will go into schools and invite them to an initiative based at the Club.”
Much like the WJTI, Give it your Max, which also contributes funding to the Tennis Foundation, the LTA’s charitable arm, is not necessarily about producing champions.
“We are as keen to get the kids off street corners as we are making great players,” Stotesbury says. “You can track all the differences that sport makes when children go back into the classroom, in terms of concentration levels, probably sleeping and eating better because they have had exercise. The fact they are part of a club and are interacting with other children has social benefits.
“When you go to the private sector you take it for granted that there is organised sport every day, we are very lucky have facilities and the coaches, but in the state sector there is no sport at all, so we have to organise it.
“A lot of our sponsors and friends like to see where we are going in producing potential winners, but if we treat them both equally and if we can produce a few winners amongst them it is a double bonus.”