Alexander has a serve at developers
COMMENTATING the Australian Open is a bittersweet experience for John Alexander these days.
He says international tennis has never been better but Australian tennis has never been worse — and that is difficult for the 57-year-old to stomach as he sits behind the microphone for Channel 7 this week.
Alexander doesn’t blame Australian players — instead it is land developers, councils and government who, to him, are the enemy.
‘‘Is it dispiriting that Australians aren’t doing better or doing as well as they did in the past? It is, but you have to judge each player on their own merits and they’re doing their best,’’ Alexander says.
‘‘Lleyton Hewitt is coming back from injury and Sam Stosur has had wretched luck with illness.
‘‘In 1970 we had six of the top 10 players in the world in men — Rosewall, Newcombe, Emerson, Laver, Roche and Stolle — but at that point we had more tennis courts per head of population than any other country and the highest participation rate in the world.
‘‘We’ve lost thousands of tennis courts across the country in the past 10 years. We had the real estate boom and tennis courts were the first target.
‘‘We were complacent in Australia. We thought we’d always dominate and, with so many tennis courts, it didn’t matter if one was built on.
‘‘Each tennis court gives 80 to 100 people the opportunity to play tennis each week so if you lose 1000 courts you lose 80,000 to 100,000 opportunities.
‘‘Tennis Australia has to engage with governments and councils to ensure that tennis courts are not only protected but get replaced.’’
Australian tennis is at crisis point but Alexander says the sport is booming internationally.
Spain, France and many Asian and eastern European countries have poured billions of dollars into tennis clubs, academies and facilities — and that has produced a swag of champions.
For now, Alexander is just hoping that the popularity of the Australian Open will help boost Australia’s future tennis stocks.
‘‘Usually what happens after the tournament is that there’s a great pick-up in participation during February and March.
‘‘It’s a great time of year for tennis in Australia.’’
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