American tennis legend Peter Fleming believes Great Britain’s next Andy Murray or Heather Watson could be waiting to be discovered at a club like Woodhall Spa.
Fleming visited Woodhall Spa on Saturday to officially open the village club’s £100,000 refurbished courts and clubhouse.
Fleming, best known for his successful doubles partnership with John McEnroe, said he was impressed with the facilities – and the standard of the club’s young players who took part in a practice session with him.
He said: “This kind of thing is great to see – a village club where there’s a really thriving membership and people just love playing their tennis.
“It’s what the game is all about. It’s how I started back in America all those years ago.
“I guess I got lucky in that I made a career out of a sport I still love. But two or three other players from my club also went through to the pro game.
“There’s no reason why that can’t happen at a club like Woodhall Spa. These clubs are at the heart-beat of the game. Who knows? We might be looking at the next Murray or the next Watson today. They’re out there somewhere.”
Fleming said he thought British tennis was in a healthy state but admitted the major problem was bringing top players through the current system..
He believes more investment should be made in clubs like Woodhall – rather than bigger facilities.
Fleming, a successful commentator who now lives in London, added: “I travel around and see a lot of outstanding young players. The challenge is making sure these players progress and go on to make a name for themselves in the pro game.
“I’d like to see more money at the real grassroots level, rather than being spent on these 20- or 30-court facilities.”
Fleming dominated doubles tennis with the often volatile McEnroe in the 1980s and the pair won more than 60 titles – including Wimbledon four times.
He added: “It was certainly interest playing with John. Let’s just say it was pretty intense at times.
“We’re still good friends. We meet four of five times a year and we share a lot of the same opinions about tennis.”
Fleming’s appearance drew a sizeable crowd to the Jubilee Park-based club – even though he arrived late after getting lost on Lincolnshire’s road system.
He explained: “My sat nav let me down. My phone just went dead somewhere on the A1 and that was it.”
Club spokesman Barry Chapman thanked Fleming for attending and paid tribute to everyone who helped raise the money which funded the improvements. He said: “It’s been a long, hard slog and we’re grateful to so many people who helped, but when you look at what’s happened today, it’s been well worth it.”