Set, match

Last updated 05:00 18/11/2012

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The Marlborough Tennis Club is one of the most vibrant and successful clubs in the province and their achievements in fostering and enhancing the game were officially recognised this week.

The club was awarded the 2012 Gold Membership award from New Zealand Tennis, recognition for having the highest membership increase for a tennis club in the country and the increase has been significant.

In 2011 there were 148 registered members, this year there are close to 350.

The man instrumental in the club's rising fortunes is their operations manager Rob Wilkinson. He only became available to Marlborough tennis 18 months ago when the devastating Christchurch Earthquake of February 2010 wrecked the facilities at Wilding Park where he was based in a similar role with Canterbury tennis.

He still recalls the horror of the day, the quake striking right in the middle of a junior international tournament he was running.

He's thrilled with the award and feels it also reflects the increase in numbers over-all throughout the province, not just at Marlborough.

Connecting with the junior players and potential players was a key, Rob said.

"What the club and Marlborough Tennis Association did was come up with a way to affiliate primary school teams so we could engage with them, involving them in competitions and coaching. Become club members and give them regular communication as to what is happening."

The Teams in Schools programme was delivered in the third term to every primary school in Marlborough, providing an introduction to the sport. From there was a comprehensive coaching programme from entry level to high performance under the direction of Marlborough Tennis Club head coach John Gardiner, the man ultimately responsible for getting Rob from Canterbury, assisted by Judy Shanahan and Reilly Quirk.

Using low compression tennis balls for the younger grades encourages longer rallies, as the balls come off the court much more slowly, and using smaller courts all made it easier to learn the game and provide much more action.

All age groups are catered for at the Marlborough Club and their Forrest Winery Tennis Centre facility is top class and one of the best locations for courts in New Zealand, Rob believes.

There are 16 courts, including two all-weather ones which were replaced earlier this year. Two of the hard courts are also earmarked for replacement next year as part of the club's desire to keep the facility in top shape, and there is a pro shop staffed mainly by junior players.

The courts are certainly well used, almost every day of the week. On Monday it's college tennis, play and coaching, an area Rob wants to see developed more. On Tuesday it's president's grade in the evening with 34 four-person teams competing and earlier in the day the mid-week ladies have their competitions.

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Premier club tennis is on Wednesday evenings with eight teams competing and on Thursday it's the club league for Marlborough Tennis Club members. Friday night it's social doubles and Saturday is the Marlborough primary schools competitions, 54 teams contesting that grade.

Far from resting on their laurels, Rob says there's still plenty of work to be done and he's hoping to follow up this year's award with another in 2013 by increasing club membership even further.

- The Marlborough Express

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