Before 8am on the morning of 13th May, residents in homes around Amherst Gardens, Hastings may have woken to sounds they hadn’t heard for nearly two months – the crisp snap of rackets on balls, the duller thud of the balls rebounding off a clay surface, and the shuffling of feet between. Playing tennis, forbidden over the intervening period of Covid-19 lockdown despite its inherent structure of social distancing on either side of a net, was once again a sanctioned pastime, albeit for singles only and subject to elaborate hygiene etiquette. 

Amherst club coach, Doug Keen, and local veteran international, Frances Candy, were first on the clay that morning. Over the following two and a half weeks, many members of both Amherst and The Green club (under a mile away in St Leonards) have returned to their respective courts, most very conscious of the need to regain fitness after weeks without any sporting activity if they haven’t been running, cycling or doing handstands in the garden in lieu.

Ross Cudmore in one-to-one session with junior at Amherst
PICTURE: Dave Young

In normal years Amherst’s season begins on 1st April, so although some members had already paid their full club subscriptions for the year ahead, many have also understandably held back. The club has stated that it intends to levy only a pro rata charge once “normal activities” are resumed – which may be when full doubles play is permitted. However, as a community amateur sports club leasing rateable premises, it qualified for – and has received – a £10,000 support package offered by central government via Hastings Borough Council. The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has also suspended its annual affiliation fee, a further saving of £770. 

“It’s too early at this point to forecast whether the £10,000 grant will make up for our lost income,” says club treasurer Pearl Hare – “not just from subscriptions, but also bar profits and court fees during what would normally be a busy period for the club.”

In the meantime Louis Bradbury, director and administrator of the 6-Love coaching team centred at Amherst, admits that they are “taking a hit”. They would normally be running group sessions for juniors several weekday evenings and Saturday mornings each week. The summer term is usually their busiest period of the year, when children new to the sport can join other novices in appropriate groupings.  On the other hand, most of their regular ‘academy’ juniors have wasted little time in returning – 19 out of 22 have turned up for at least a single one-to-one coaching session in the past two and a half weeks, some several.

Leading junior, Hayden Hoxey, aged 14, was up at the club on Friday afternoon hitting with coach Ross Cudmore. He had broken a bone in his foot some weeks before lockdown started in March, so wouldn’t have been able to play much before now anyway. He says he’s pleased to be back on the courts, and hopes it won’t be too long before LTA tournaments resume.

Louis too is still hopeful that 6-Love will be able to run their normal summer club in the July/August holiday period. “With primary schools and nurseries going back on Monday, I believe this will happen – but we’re still awaiting government advice,” he says. 

STOP PRESS: The LTA announced last Sunday afternoon (31st May) that, as from the following day, games of tennis doubles will be sanctioned, whether or not any of the players are members of the same household, plus coaching group sessions with up to six participants. Complex hygienic controls are still required, and partners on the same side of the net advised to observe two-metre social distancing, including a bizarre suggestion that they might “consider agreeing in advance which player will take the shot if a ball travels to the centre of the court”. (Which sports administrator thought that one up? Maybe the same as advised Sports Minister Oliver Dowden last month to approve basketball as a socially distanced sport). 

Amherst and The Green clubs will no doubt adapt their protocols accordingly. On the other hand, as reported in our news section, Hastings Borough Council continues to insist currently on keeping the public courts at Alexandra Park locked and barred. 

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