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Argyll’s biggest tennis tournament is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week – at the second time of asking.
Organisers were devasted last year when the West Highland Tennis Tournament (WHT) Golden Jubilee was cancelled two days before it was due to start because of Covid. With the 2019 event also being cancelled under lockdown rules, this year’s championship is making a much welcomed return.
Hailed as ‘more than just a competition’, the tournament began on Tuesday with the popular local events open to club members, non members and visitors. These competitions reinforce that the tournament, since 1971 to the present day, has always felt it important that local players are actively involved.
Tuesday saw the Tennis and Tea afternoon, while on Wednesday the Atlantis Leisure courts were the venue for the Oban High School pupils’ competition. Last night was the turn of the handicap singles, with players of all levels taking part.
Championship events run from tomorrow (Friday) to Sunday. These are B18, G18, Gents and Ladies Singles, plus Gents and Ladies Doubles. The singles finals will start at 1pm on Sunday, followed by doubles finals.
Over the weekend there will be more than 80 matches played with 40-plus players participating. The ladies top seeds are Lisa Munro and Jennifer Green who both have close family links to Oban, while the Gents seeds are Scottish but from different areas.
The tennis squad from John Newcombe Ranch Texas return after the break for Covid. Two coaches will bring a squad of 16 young players, aged from 16 to 19 years.
Oban is a great favourite with every squad and apart from visiting Wimbledon, Oban is the highlight of their tour. They love the scenery, the weather – even playing in the rain – and the friendliness of the tournament and the Oban people.
Esther Delgado, their senior coach, has been travelling with the squads since 2009; Charles Honey, South African Davis Cup player, was the first coach to bring a squad in 2002.
Esther said: ‘This is a truly a unique and special tournament that holds a special place in my heart.
‘It is one of the best tournaments in the UK. As a coach I couldn’t ask for a better experience for my players.’
As well as the tennis WHT offers a quiz for players and families on Friday evening and a barbecue on Saturday evening. To celebrate the 50th anniversary there will a buffet lunch before the finals on Sunday.
Oban Town Council then Argyll and Bute Council have supported the tournament since it started in 1971.
Mary McLean has been a committee member of WHT for more than 40 years and referee/organiser for 38 years.
She said: ‘It has been a privilege to be part of the tournament and welcome players from Great Britain and other parts of the world.
‘Many of our winners have played at a high level in tennis. What stands out is how much fun players, families and myself have had over these many years. My thanks to everyone who have given of their time and support over 50 years.’
The championships have always attracted an outstanding calibre of player across its illustrious history, with renowned Davis Cup team captain David Lloyd the first winner of the men’s competition following its return in 1971. Since then, a host of Scotland’s top tennis talents have been crowned champions, including Commonwealth Games gold medallist and current GB National Tennis Academy Lead Performance Coach Colin Fleming, Tennis Scotland’s Head of Performance Karen Ross and coach Judy Murray.
NO_T26_WestHighlandTennis_Mary McLean: Organiser Mary McLean joined Oban Tennis Club in the 1970s and was ladies champion for several years.
NO_F26_WestHighlandTennis_PIONEERS: West Highland Tournament pioneers.
NO_F26_WestHighlandTennis_winner_Colin-Fleming: GB National Tennis Academy Lead Performance Coach Colin Fleming is on the WHT Championship role of honour.