Like it or not, tennis is still a middle class sport, and the cost of playing (racket, balls, kit, court fees etc) along with the 'exclusivity' of many tennis clubs, is a barrier to wider participation.
I played a fair bit of tennis as a kid but it was an 'appointment sport' - you had to book a court, well in advance, and you could only afford to play every so often. And new tennis balls were a tennis or christmas present.
Where as we played football at every opportunity, before school (often with a tennis ball, as footballs were forbidden), during breaks, after school, and every weekend. You literally can play anytime, anywhere.
I thought about this today as I was queuing up to pay for 5 tubes of Slazenger Wimbledon balls that I bought at a knockdown price of £2.99 each - bargain!
I was also reminded of a guy I played a few times at my previous club (nice guy, decent player). He worked in an investment bank and had clearly done well for himself.
What sticks in my mind is him declaring that balls are so cheap in the US that most park or club players use new balls every time they play, and that therefore he was going to do the same. (Perhaps some of my friends in the US could confirm whether this is true or not)
I always thought this was a bit decadent. OK if it's good enough for the pro's then why not, but for me part of the charm of amateur tennis is the variety and slight unpredictabiltiy that comes from using the same balls for a few weeks.
On a related note, there was a further reminder today that despite the credit crunch there is still plenty of money to be made in the game. Neil Harman at The Times reports that Andy Murray is considering switching management companies, and has been told that he can make as much as £100 million from off court endorsements. You can read all about it here.