In terms of enjoying a long-standing family connection to the sport, no one is Sudbury is likely better equipped to try and move forward the state of tennis than Cliff Richardson. The family involvement goes back many, many decades.
His father, Jim, who passed away eight years ago this month, was at the forefront of the current home of the Sudbury Indoor Tennis Centre. “My father was one of the founding members that got the club up and running,” noted Richardson recently. “He was club pro manager for over a decade.”
“In 1992, a group of members of the tennis club got together and organized the financing to get this air-supported structure, the “bubble” as they call it, to cover the courts.” So when the cry for help went out recently, Richardson answered with little hesitation.
“Given my background, given my history with the club, having grown up here and played, taught, cleaned courts, worked the front desk, I kind of grabbed the reins.” In fact, to some degree, Richardson could likely envision the same type of motivation that would lead his father to open the doors to a pastime that he has now enjoyed for years.
“The tables have turned, as I now have a daughter here in lessons,” he said. “We’re going through a little period of transition, looking at some new initiatives to really revitalize tennis here in Sudbury.” While there are several components to the plan that Richardson and his board have started to put in place, the recent hiring of Rathindra Kakati as club pro/manager is viewed as a key step forward.
In the eyes of the local tennis community, the timing is right. “Internationally, we have some Canadian players now that are highly ranked or rising,” said Richardson, noting the continued success of both Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov. “Tennis could easily become more noticeable on the global scene, so we have to ride that wave. We have to get into some schools to expose kids to tennis.”
In fact, there are improvements required, from an administrative and management point of view, that go well beyond simply acknowledging the additional awareness that national stars might bring to the sport. “I think we have to bring more value added to members, to kids that are in lessons,” said Richardson.
“We have to do a better job of trying to get players from other cities, who can come on the weekend, out here playing. We’re the only covered courts in northern Ontario, north of Barrie. In southern Ontario, there’s a million of these facilities and kids can play year round, play a tournament almost every weekend, without having to travel very far.”
With knowledge of the Sudbury tennis community that dates back to the days of the former Sudbury Squash and Racquet Club, just off Falconbridge Road, Richardson understands there is a great deal of work to be done simply trying to connect with the very casual local tennis player, the same folks who might frequent the city-owned outdoor courts in the summer.
“People don’t necessarily realize it, but tennis is not all that expensive,” he said. “It doesn’t cost that much money to buy a racquet and a pair of running shoes. You compare that to sports like hockey and others with a lot of equipment, and having to changeover that equipment, you really don’t have that here.”
“We looked across the board and looked at other sports that we are competing with, and we feel that we have priced it accordingly. We have lessons on the weekends, Saturday mornings, the odd Sunday, quite affordable programs, once a week, for 10 week sessions. Just come out and try it and see.”
There certainly is no denying the longevity that tennis can enjoy within the athletic experiences of even the most average of Sudbury area athletes. “It’s a sport that you can carry through all of your life,” stressed Richardson. “We have kids that are five years old, we have a number of members who are in their eighties and playing. It’s one of those sports that’s a lifelong sport, very healthy. It’s a real great game, all around.”
And while the Sudbury Indoor Tennis Centre and the folks affiliated with it obviously have a vested interest in seeing the sport thrive in the area, Richardson believes that growth could benefit the region in a whole variety of manners.
“We have a couple of members who have been attending a great event in Michigan for years and years and years,” he said. “It’s a little about us wanting to do something similar to that, become the tennis hub of the north. We’re trying to generate some new tourism dollars, but also just creating a bit of a buzz around tennis.”
More than anything else, this group knows that it must overcome a basic lack of awareness in the community. “A lot of people still don’t realize that we have a full, year round tennis here in Sudbury,” Richardson stated. “We’ve got this great facility, right next to Queen’s Athletic Field. Kids can come in, play tennis, and then go for a skate right here in the winter.”
“Tennis is a really great under-appreciated sport that has a host of benefits that can carry through your entire life.” And in the case of the Richardson clan, carried from one generation to the next, apparently.