THE Griffith Tennis Club's most important junior tournament has been dealt a severe blow by Tennis NSW in a move that long-time coach and manager Cheryl Rawle believes could seriously damage the sport.
The state governing body has stripped Griffith of its Optus Junior Tour ranking points event, which had only been recently awarded to Griffith and run for the first time ever this year.
Rawle and the club took an innovative approach to the tournament by running it as a round robin instead of a knockout, which meant maximum court time for all players something she believes should be encouraged by Tennis NSW as it combats the increasing scourge of players who are motivated solely by ranking points.
Griffith will still hold a junior tournament next year but there will be no points on offer, removing what Rawle says is the biggest incentive for traveling players.
"I think people recognise there's a big problem about these points tournaments and it's going to hurt Griffith big time for the juniors and for the tourism that comes here," she said.
"Wagga has two junior tour tournaments, as has Tumut which is great for tennis but we've lost ours.
"I'm really disappointed because we've got a good batch of kids.
"The problem is they have now fully entrenched a mentality in players and parents that only points count, and if you don't have points, nobody will come.
"If I was a parent spending a lot of money on weekly coaching, why come to a non-points tournament?
"In tennis now everything is about winning. Once you lose you're out. That's the message we're getting from tennis at the moment. It's disappointing."
In a further blow to tennis in the area, Griffith's Platinum AMT event has been also downgraded to a Gold event, meaning a reduction in ranking points available to players.
The Hay Open, which was a White AMT event - the lowest-ranked in terms of prizemoney and points in the AMT system - has also been cut from the national calendar.
These decisions impact not just players in Griffith and Hay but across the entire Riverina, removing two tournaments from the region's popular September-October circuit.
For a club that relies so heavily on income from such competitions, Rawle said she held grave fears for the future.
"We have been assured people will travel for the gold tournament and I said I'm happy to sit back and see what happens, but I would say we'll struggle for numbers," she said.
"They may know the trends better than we do. I'm happy to go with it for 12 months but I'll be asking the powers that be for their support. If it's not forthcoming I don't know what I'd do.
"I'll be very interested to see how they coerce people to play in our tournament without that."
Tennis NSW's Tournaments and Competitions Manager, Michelle Bowrey, admitted the sport has to wean players and parents off their addiction to ranking points.
But she said a reduction in tournaments this year across the state, combined with a thinning junior base, forced the governing body's hand.
"I don't think points are the be-all and end-all and nor should they be," she said.
"We really need to move away from this points focus because we won't produce players if that's what people are focused on."
Bowery said Tennis NSW was examining a way to subsidise travel costs to encourage players to attend more country tournaments.
"People won't necessarily travel a long way to get points. Some will, but not everybody, and if the cost factor is taken out of the equation we feel like we'll get a better result," she said.
"That is the barrier for the metropolitan players and if we can eliminate that barrier then it will help the country tournaments to grow."