Alexan­der has a serve at de­vel­op­ers

Herald Sun - Switched On - - News - COLIN VICK­ERY

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.’’

At the net:

John Alexan­der.

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