LAST year saw the coronavirus pandemic result in a British summer without Wimbledon for the first time since the Second World War.

But while the All England Club had to come to terms with losing the most famous tennis tournament in the world, the sport was thriving in Wales.

The championships at SW19 will return next month, as Welsh tennis looks to build on a marked increase in people picking up a racket since the original lockdown started last March.

Speaking a year ago, Simon Johnson, CEO of Tennis Wales, the Welsh arm of the Lawn Tennis Association, feared clubs and facilities across the country wouldn’t survive the impact of Covid-19.

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Twelve months on and Johnson, pictured above, is delighted with how tennis in Wales has coped during such testing times, and he is positive about the future too.

“I’m really proud we’ve been able to navigate our way through a difficult period,” he said.

“There was some fantastic work from club committees and volunteers which allowed people to play.

“It all resulted in a welcome increase in club memberships across Wales of 18 per cent, and I don’t know of any clubs or facilities we’ve lost because of the pandemic.

“We have also found that participation in tennis in Wales has grown in the last 12 months.

“It peaked last summer with some 130,000 adults picking up a racket at least once, and that is the highest it has been for a number of years.

“Tennis was a good sport to play with everything going on because you were socially distanced, outdoors and courts were accessible locally so people didn’t have to travel.

“It was a great response from the Welsh public and we are on an upward trajectory when it comes to participation.”

Tennis Wales has a network that includes more than 130 registered tennis venues (clubs, schools, leisure centres, indoor centres and public parks), around 200 accredited coaches and some 500 volunteers.

Keeping tennis courts for public use has always been a topic of discussion for those involved in the sport at a grassroots level, and it is no different in Wales.

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Concerns over the future of facilities, including those at Cardiff’s Victoria Park, and Langland Bay and Mumbles just outside Swansea, continue to be raised by the likes of campaign group Friends of Langland Bay Tennis.

A young Andy Murray won one of his first tournaments – the Swansea Tennis Junior Championships – at Langland Bay in the late 1990s.

Welsh tennis chief Johnson insists his organisation is doing all it can to protect the country’s facilities, while also making the sport more accessible.

“We’re working really hard with the LTA and Sport Wales to protect this country’s tennis assets,” he said.

“All 22 local authorities in Wales have public parks with tennis courts, and we’ve been in touch with them on a regular basis.

“We work with sport development or leisure trusts to make sure courts are in a good condition, they are maintained and will be there in the future.

“We did a piece of research about four-and-a-half years ago and we estimated that there were 1,200 tennis courts in Wales and some 80 public parks.

“As an organisation, we want to protect all of the courts and make them as accessible as possible.

“We will work with anyone with a tennis court and there are support packages for those who want to build or modernise courts.

“We don’t own courts. People can register with us and those who do can benefit from grants and things like Wimbledon tickets and public liability insurance.”

He added: “The Tennis Wales in the Park scheme has been fantastic.

“It has been an opportunity for people to access affordable tennis close to home, and it’s what we are trying to do, open up the sport to more people.

“It’s very much an opportunity to encourage more people to play in parks.

“With the Tennis Wales in the Park scheme, we are also looking to promote and safeguard courts.

“Quite often, some courts haven’t got people looking after them, they fall into disrepair and the local authority will see that and turn them into something else.

“We need to make sure that doesn’t happen and tennis is sustainable and successful going forward.”

Meanwhile, more tournaments will be taking place across Wales this summer with Covid restrictions easing but social distancing still in place.

“I’m very pleased we’ve got good working relationships with the Welsh Government and Sport Wales, and credit to them for what they’ve done over the past 14 months,” said Johnson.

“Tennis was one of the first sports to restart with the Covid protocols in place and we were able to hold some smaller tournaments.

“We had to start with eight players, when usually it’s 64, but hopefully we can keep increasing the numbers throughout the year.

“We’ll start seeing more national tournaments in the next six weeks.”

Staging a tournament in Wales featuring an array of top professional players is “not insurmountable”, according to Johnson.

Legends of the game have played in Wales before, with Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall, Maria Bueno, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong coming over in the 1960s and 70s.

However, since then, there hasn’t been the same calibre of players on show in the principality.

But Tennis Wales CEO Johnson sees no reason why the country can’t host a tournament on a par with the Murray Trophy, a Challenger Tour event, in Scotland.

When asked if there are any plans to stage a competition that could attract international talent, Johnson said: “It’s very much a part of our strategy.

“We need the facilities to stage an international tennis tournament with the usual stadium seating and ticket sales.

“We want to have everything in place to welcome some top players to Wales – and it’s doable.

“We do need to modernise some of our facilities in Wales, and then hopefully we can bring in the top players.

“It’s not insurmountable. We’ve seen in Scotland how they have the Murray Trophy.

“We absolutely think we can be holding events on the same scale as that.”

He added: “We’ve done it in Wales with other sports and hopefully we can do it with tennis.

“It’s great for the economy and the development of youngsters if we can bring some big names to Wales.

“Nothing quite beats having elite players turn up and play on a court that members of the public could play on.”

Johnson, whose organisation is planning to survey its members on tennis facilities in Wales, admits they “need to be on the front foot with decisions”.

Emerson et al played in the Welsh Championships, which also featured Grand Slam champions Jaroslav Drobny and Kerry Melville.