“No one in my family had ever played, so my dad bought a book called ‘learn tennis in a weekend”
• 4 MINUTE READ
During Black History Month, we are using LTA channels as a platform for black voices within our sport, giving people the opportunity to share their stories of how they got involved and why they love tennis.
37-year-old Sena Tengey, who has been a tennis coach for 20 years and is the Director of Diamond Tennis Academy in Cardiff – which he set up in 2006 – talks through his tennis journey, why his father is his hero and his message for Tim Henman.
My route into tennis
So, like a lot of other people around the country my first exposure to tennis was watching Wimbledon on TV. I thought it looked really cool so said to myself ‘let’s give that a go’. No one in my family had ever played tennis, so my dad bought a book called ‘learn tennis in a weekend’ and we went down to our local park in Roath, Cardiff to try it out. I was nine or ten when that happened, and I was ten when I progressed from his ‘expert’ coaching to a tennis club – Mackintosh Sports Club, which was also in Cardiff.
Sprinting was, and still is my passion, but I played lots of other sports at school: cricket, football, swimming and rugby (it’s a must if you live in Wales) so tennis was added to the list. Tennis stood out for me because of that one-to-one battle, especially in singles, and also that battle against yourself. I also love its variety. You can make it physical – whether you’re fitter and faster than the other person – you can make it tactical – whether you can outwit them – or you can make it technical, so there are multiple ways of trying to win a match and I love that.
After getting into lessons I started to get the urge to compete and play matches. I remember my first match and travelling an hour each way from Cardiff to Swansea to lose 6-0 6-0 in 20 minutes. Believe it or not I was hooked after that. It was a character building experience and I wanted to improve and get better. At a junior level, I played to county standard in Wales and it was a huge part of growing up – I still have a set of friends who I played with as a kid, and we’ve all grown up to become coaches.
Becoming a tennis family
Over time tennis has become a big part of my family. My dad coached me, my younger brother Settor got involved as well – he went on to become Welsh junior champion a few times – and my mum comes to the academy now for lessons once a week, so it’s definitely a sport that my whole family is involved in. My brother went to Bristol for a few years but he’s back in Cardiff now too so we’re all really close. He’s got a little girl now – she’s too small at the moment to have a racket in her hand – but we’re hoping to get her out on the court soon.
Being the first person from the family to travel to tournaments and compete was a learning process for the family, understanding what tennis was about and visiting different places. I think Settor would admit that he got involved because I played. We used to have a knock with each other and we were drawn against one another once or twice in tournaments – that was always interesting! Definitely from my experiences there weren’t many black people playing tennis at the time so forging that path by having those experiences was something I was happy to do, and hopefully he got an easier ride because of me going through that journey first.
My experience as a black man in British tennis
Looking back there were some tough times. It wasn’t common seeing black people at a tournament, so when we arrived there was a bit of ‘who are these new people playing the sport?’ but on the whole we were welcomed. The world has come a long way in 30 or 40 years. My father is my hero and when he came to the UK from Ghana in the 1970s he had some awful experiences as a black man in this country. Those things have changed over time as society has evolved – I think tennis can play a role in that too. I absolutely think things are easier now, and the fact that I’m sitting here today as a Director of a Tennis Centre is a case study to say that things have moved forward. But am I an outlier? Or is it something that can be repeated? That remains to be seen.
During Covid we’ve seen the re-emergence of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and I think that people have had the chance to reflect on that over lockdown. I think there’s a real desire to drive change, and for people of diverse backgrounds to be heard. Hopefully that will continue and personally speaking we’ve looked inwardly and decided there are a lot of things we can do ourselves at the Academy.
My desire to increase diversity in tennis
When I became a coach my mission was to run quality sessions for all. We’re still learning on that front and we’re trying to improve every day and take tennis into different communities and bring in those who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to play the sport.
I think lots of coaches and volunteers around the country do this already, and the LTA SERVES programme takes tennis to underserved communities too, but there is still work to do. In the past we’ve kept it slightly under wraps, but I’ve taken on a player who couldn’t afford lessons and we’ll run weekly sessions with them for free for a year. I’ve encouraged the rest of the coaches in my team to do the same – I’m sure coaches around the country are doing these things – but this is one way that we felt we could make a positive change right away. We’ve got some more exciting plans which I’m going to share with Scott Lloyd and others at the LTA, that we think can make a meaningful change for underprivileged communities to help grow the game in the long term too.
My message for Tim…
I was at the National Tennis Centre recently and I was fortunate enough to bump into Tim Henman. If you’re reading this Tim I know you’re a member at Wimbledon and I would love to pop down and play against you. I think that would complete the circle of watching Wimbledon on TV to going to one of the best tennis clubs in the world to have a little hit – that would be nice!
Find out more
Read an update from LTA CEO Scott Lloyd, following his open letter in June outlining the need to do more on equality, our commitment to listen and then put in place the actions needed.