It’s an exciting week for tennis fans in Victoria with Tennis Victoria Pennant returning for its 140th year.
It’s a significant milestone for the competition and to celebrate its 140th anniversary, State Grade will make a return.
State Grade took a back seat and was phased out with the emergence of Tennis Victoria Premier League as well as the Asia-Pacific Tennis League but the opportunity for a regenerated State Grade model has come at an appropriate and symbolic time.
Speaking with The First Serve on Monday night, Tennis Victoria Competition Coordinator, Sean Spralja said that now was the perfect time to revitalise the Pennant competition.
“There was a lot of disengagement with the higher end,” he said.
“Last year in particular, we saw a lot of team forfeits, a lot of individual player forfeits, and a lot of teams that were dropping out of grade one altogether, so it was a system that was in need of reform.”
With the announcement that State Grade would make a return this season as part of the new look Pennant scene, Tennis Victoria CEO, Adam Crameri, said in February that it would be great to see the excitement towards State Grade return.
“We know State Grade was hugely popular and we hope to see that passion for the competition return in 2023,” he said.
“Tennis Victoria Pennant is celebrating its 140th year and adding State Grade to the competition playing opportunities will cater for the high-performance Victorian tennis athletes in our community.”
Having not had State Grade tennis since 2009, its hoped that this rebooted Pennant competition will provide additional pathways for juniors looking to push higher with their tennis.
Of course, tennis pathways have generated recent debate in Victoria, and this has been explored by The First Serve, but for talented juniors and local level players State Grade will provide for a greater amount of opportunity and a strong playing field to compete against.
Spralja also explained how Pennant in 2023 will be able to provide more pathway stability with the new structure also catering for more opportunities than experienced in previous years.
“It provides that pathway, not only for state grade players but for the juniors coming up,” he said.
“It’s not just the state grade players that this effects, this has an effect right the way down the pathway from grade one all the way through to grade 12 in the men’s and grade 5 in the women’s.”
One of the fundamental elements of the State Grade setup is the association between players and their clubs.
Pennant State Grade will offer a high level of tennis that brings together players who have travelled the professional circuit as well as talented junior players and quality club players from around Melbourne.
Spralja expressed that he and Tennis Victoria were incredibly excited by the fact that this year has seen more talent compared to recent years.
“The standard of players that we’ve seen register for their teams for state grade is so much higher than what we saw last year under grade one, so the calibre of players representing their clubs is just fantastic,” he said.
The First Serve also spoke with Belinda Woolcock and Lewis Miles on Monday nights radio show about the benefits of State Grade returning to the Pennant.
Both Woolcock and Miles will represent their respective clubs this season at State Grade level.
Woolcock who plays with Kooyong explained that the mixture of talent has major positive impacts on clubs and players.
“Having that sense of community and building that foundation within your club and the people around you and having those levels to build up is really great for juniors,” she said.
“For myself growing up I had that and it’s really motivating and inspiring to see a lot of good players out there on the weekends.”
Meanwhile for Miles, the appetite and drive for State Grade to return is stronger than ever.
“Coming into this year myself and a few other players got together to push the banner to start State Grade again,” he said.
“I Started playing State Grade back when I was 15 back when it finished in 2009.”
The return of the State Grade setup was also important to Miles as he explained the toll tournaments can have on players.
“The thing with tennis as you get older is that there’s a lot of guys who can play a very high level of tennis, but they just can’t play tournaments because its just so hard to back up,” he said.
“But then what you’ve got is so many great players just sitting around in Melbourne who talent wise or skill wise are still quite strong but tournaments are just way too hard for them”.
It seems the return of State Grade has generated a plethora of hype and excitement around Melbourne with the Pennant season to kick off this weekend for the Women.
The State Grade season will feature 14 rounds for the Women and 15 rounds for Men and Grand Finals will be held in early September with The First Serve to provide coverage throughout 2023.