Tarka Tennis Centre reaches its tenth anniversary
THE TARKA Tennis Centre will be ten years old on Sunday.
To mark the anniversary, three courts will be made available to allcomers free of charge between noon and 5pm.
Tennis in North Devon was a summer-only, outdoor sport before the centre, with its six indoor courts, was opened in Barnstaple on February 3, 2003.
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It was built with funding from Sport England, North Devon Council and the Lawn Tennis Association.
Chris Gill, the director of tennis, said: "A lot has happened since then.
"The club tennis scene now goes on all year round.
"And it's not just for regular tennis players. Tarka is a public facility, so you don't have to become a member to play here, anyone can phone up and book a court.
"There is a big lounge area, so parents can relax and enjoy a coffee while their children play tennis, football or gymnastics."
Gill said more than 3,000 people go through the Tarka Centre's doors each week, with more than 700 playing tennis. Increasing the number of people playing the sport was one of Gill's priorities.
"A centre of this size has a running cost, so the first major goal was to increase the base of tennis players," he said. "To do this, Tarka developed its Schools Outreach Programme, taking tennis free to all local primary schools.
"This formed the basis of the Tarka Tennis Programme, bringing in new players who would then go on to become county and national champions.
"We have had more than 50 play for Devon and won ten county titles.
"These players have kept improving and we have had three national titles, players who have become coaches and, more recently, players who are looking into playing full-time tennis."
The annual international tournament, run since 2004, has grown to become the highest-level indoor event in the country – the women's AEGON GB Pro-Series Barnstaple.
Among the players to have appeared are Jamie Murray, Heather Watson, Laura Robson, world No 6 Angelique Kerber and Jeremy Chardy, who was beaten by Andy Murray in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
With Falcons Gymnastics Academy now moved into its new home at the centre, plans are being made for the next development.
Gill said: "The amount of tennis users grows year on year and also the court time required by our aspiring young players.
"To keep up with this demand we hope to cover our remaining outside courts, which will give us nine indoor courts."
To book a free court on Sunday, call 01271 377701.