The Easter weekend has long played host to a series of community tennis tournaments across Australia, particularly on the lawn courts of country towns.
2023 saw more than thirty take place around the nation – highlighted by two long-standing events in country Victoria.
Yarrawonga Lawn Tennis Club hosted its 124th Easter tournament over the weekend while Shepparton celebrated its 99thannual event.
Both occasions were seemingly as popular as ever – with Yarrwonga reaching its 1200-player capacity in just 36 hours and Shepparton also enjoying over 900 entries.
Marked out across the lawn tennis club and adjoining football oval, Yarrwonga’s 59 grass courts were in pristine condition on Friday morning, before an unprecedented hailstorm meant all but Open singles had to be cancelled.
However, dry courts and better weather on the weekend meant almost 1100 doubles matches were able to be played across Saturday and Sunday – including some late into the evening under lights.
Meanwhile, Shepparton – just an hour away – managed to avoid most of the severe weather in the 99th edition of its community event.
“It was a busy weekend – with a few late nights involved and a lot of early starts,” Shepparton Lawn Tennis Club President Kevin Hicks told Brett Phillips on The First Serve.
“It was a full house. [Entries] filled up a couple of weeks before which was nice and healthy,” Hicks said.
“[The event] was very well received – with a few newcomers and lots of regulars that have been coming for 5-10 years – and it was nice to have them all back.”
Hicks discussed how Shepparton’s Easter tournament is truly an occasion for everyone – both on and off the court.
“It’s a really good family event, where all grades of tennis are played – and they have just as much fun in the D-grade as the Open.”
“We try to entertain [everyone] afterwards. We’ve had a couple of late nights and lots of good fun with some social events – [including] a ‘big bash for cash’ for the fastest server, which was well received.”
And while competing players are of all ages and abilities, the top singles events are often filled with talent – most notably back in 2015 where a 16-year-old Alex de Minaur took out the Shepparton men’s title.
“[This year], we had a couple of good local kids that performed extremely well [including] Olivia Quigley who won our Cheryl Cottrell Open women’s event,” Hicks said.
In Yarrwonga, high-quality men’s and women’s open singles finals were enjoyed by full grandstands courtside – crowds much greater than those for ITF events hosted across Australia this year.
For me, it begs the question of whether combining grassroots and low-level professional events would provide a better pathway forward for competitive play in Australia.
If an ITF 25K event began last Monday in Shepparton or Yarrawonga – leading into semi-finals and finals in front of big crowds on the weekend – the benefits could be significant for players, observers, and the community.
Ultimately, the current tournaments are run superbly thanks to the many hard-working volunteers at each event – from those creating draws and serving food to the young kids assisting in match check-ins.
They showcase the beauty of tennis at the grassroots level – and both Shepparton (100th edition) and Yarrwonga (125th) can now look ahead to major milestones in 2024.