The man at the forefront of diversifying British tennis on Raducanu

Money well spent: US Open winner Emma Raducanu was put on the road to fame aged 12 by Ken Weatherley’s charity fund

  • Ken Weatherley seeks to financially help aspiring tennis players in the UK
  • He has noticed a gradual shift away from the middle-class, white stereotype 
  • Weatherley felt Emma Raducanu was special after watching her practise
  • He hopes Raducanu’s US Open triumph can be a game-changer for participation 

By the time Ken Weatherley first considered Emma Raducanu’s request for tennis funding, he was already noticing a shift in the kind of applicants coming forward.

More and more people from first or second-generation British families have been approaching his charity, which seeks to financially help aspiring young players in the UK.

Weatherley now expects that diversification to further accelerate in the wake of the Kent teenager’s spectacular success at the US Open.

First- and second-generation immigrant families are having increased success in British tennis

Emma Raducanu’s hitting with Anton Matusevich marked her out as a future star of the sport

For the past 12 years Weatherley, a former player and long-serving committee member at Wimbledon, has been running Tennis First, which since 1999 has sought to give youthful talent a first foot on the ladder to stardom.

It was seven years ago that he first came across Raducanu and her father Ian as prospective grantees, among the hundreds they had already helped.

He could not help recalling those early meetings as he watched the player who is now their star alumna lift the trophy at Flushing Meadows.

‘I watched her practising at Bromley with another young Kent player, Anton Matusevich,’ says Weatherley. ‘I immediately thought she was exceptional in the way she hit the ball.

‘In a way spotting that is always the easy bit. It is what is going on inside a player’s head that is much harder to grasp.’

Already it was clear to him that her father Ian was the key figure behind her development.

‘I always try to speak to the parents of prospective grantees. Ian did not have a tennis background but he was always inquisitive and keen to glean information both technical and about the pathway to becoming a pro. 

‘That is a complicated area and requires a lot of decisions to be made. There are pushy parents who can be a pain in the neck but he was not one of those. He was always very nice and motivated by what was best for his daughter.

‘Ian is definitely a parent of the benign variety. Another aspect is that he would not be swayed by orthodox thinking on coaching. I would say he does not suffer fools gladly.’

Ken Weatherley never felt Ian Raducanu (left) was pushy as he strived to help his daughter

Following several conversations and because of her obvious talent, it was decided to give Emma a bursary. 

She was supported by Tennis First from the age of 12 to 16 until there was no more need and the Lawn Tennis Association would take over entirely.

Financed by donations and fundraising events, at any one time the charity supports between 30 and 40 young players of potential. 

Raducanu and Jack Draper have become its 16th and 17th recipients to make the stated goal of reaching the world’s top 250.

‘Tennis is not an expensive game to play to recreational level, but it does cost a lot in terms of coaching and travel if you are going to try and make it to the elite level,’ says Weatherley.

He also knows this from personal experience as his son Joe was once an early starter on the tennis pathway.   

Players like Mingge Xu and Matilda Mutavdzic (pictured) are defying long-held stereotypes

Simultaneously keen on his cricket, at 14 Joe opted to concentrate on that and has gone on to make a professional career as a batsman with Hampshire.

After a lifetime in the sport, Weatherley has been fascinated to see how the stereotype of GB tennis being dominated by traditional middle-class British families is increasingly inaccurate.

A look at the home participants in the draws for the elite junior draws at Wimbledon this summer reflects that. 

For example, among the family names in there are those of Xu, Chen, Oluwadare, Bilchev and Mutavdzic.

‘There has definitely been a significant shift towards kids who are first or second-generation Brits, more ethnic minorities, and that is a really positive thing,’ says Weatherley.

‘On a wider basis people might be surprised at the amount of applications for funding we get from parents who are on the average, or less than the average, national wage.  

Matusevich is combining an economics degree with his fledgling professional tennis career

‘For us the idea is that we give them some support that they have the chance to fulfil that potential, and then as with Emma we would stop when they are getting sufficient help from elsewhere.

‘I think there is a cultural element involved. In tennis it usually takes a lot of commitment from at least one parent, and there is often a different drive and ambition in families who have arrived here from elsewhere for children to achieve their maximum potential. You see it in academics as well.’

Matusevich, Raducanu’s near contemporary from Kent, is an interesting comparison. Of Russian parentage, he came desperately close to winning through Wimbledon’s qualifying event, but is still studying for an economics degree in parallel with his tennis career.

With her Chinese and Romanian heritage and massively broad appeal, Weatherley is expecting Raducanu to drive big increases in the numbers from all demographics who will start playing and attempt to make the elite level.

‘When Andy Murray came through and won the US Open and Wimbledon I think everyone expected that to have a wider impact on participation,’ he said. 

‘For whatever reason that didn’t quite happen, perhaps in part because of the way he was perceived.

Andy Murray’s US Open triumph did not change the grassroots game – but Raducanu’s might

‘Emma is one of those people you don’t hear a bad word about, that’s always been the case. 

‘There was always a sort of serenity about her. I think she is going to change things and she is going to be the one.’

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