“I want to see people who have tennis at their heart get involved for the development of not just themselves or their children but for the development of tennis in the country. There is a lot of talent in the country that we are not looking at as we should and that is cause for concern.”
Those were the sentiments of Hayden Ashton, a former national junior and senior tennis champion, who is currently a Professional Tennis Coach at Midtown Tennis Club in Manhattan, New York.
Ashton who was in the country on a brief visit last week has been contributing significantly to the development of tennis among the nation’s youth over the years.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY last week Thursday, Ashton said that the problem with tennis in Grenada is that some parents get involved in the tennis association for their own personal interests and not for the development of the sport.
“You have kids who play tennis and some parents, who only get involved with the association to see what they can get for their kid and not looking out for the other kids and that’s what is happening right now,” he remarked.
Ashton charged that “the national tennis association is not functioning as it should be but (that) there are people like Richie Hughes, who have been doing a really great job”.
“He (Hughes) is all over the country teaching tennis. So, there are a lot of people playing tennis and there are a lot of people who went away on tennis scholarships,” he said.
However, the former national player pointed out that “politics in the tennis association” has been hampering its impact and forward movement of the sport on the island.
Speaking of his journey, Ashton, a former Student of the St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic School then called the Morne Jaloux R. C. School revealed that he did not start off actually playing tennis but as a ‘ball guy’ fielding balls for the players of the ‘upper class’ in the Richmond Hill Lawn Tennis Club.
“And then I started going there early before they (the players) get there and I started playing (tennis) with a cousin of mine,” said Ashton who was nine (9) years old at that time.
The then youthful Ashton entered his first junior tournament at the age of 11 and won the boys 12 and under category that year.
However, he explained that “in those days if you didn’t have money you couldn’t play… It (tennis) was not like it is now,” he said, noting that “they used to call it the bourgeoisie of sports.
“So, I was the first grassroots person to burst in on the tennis scene and dominate it…and I just continued to progress from there and by the time I was 15 years old, I was the national junior and senior champion back in the 1980’s…I went on to represent Grenada at a national level, the Windward Islands as a junior and played Davis Cup for the Eastern Caribbean.”\
Ashton played a record 31 matches to create history in the OECS for the most matches played by any single player – a record which, he said still stands to date.
“I played for like six (6), seven (7) years and there was no other player that played that many matches for the OECS, he told THE NEW TODAY.
After a short stint of employment with the Ministry of Sports, Ashton, said he traveled to the United States, where he first gained employment at the Tennis Academy in Port Washington, Long Island, over 16 other individuals who were interviewed for the job.
He said after approximately 1-year at the Academy, he was proposed a job offer that paid twice as much his monthly salary.
“On my days off I used to go to the Midtown Tennis Club in Manhattan, that’s where I am at now. They were short-staffed one (1) day and I helped them out and the manager came to me and said the people were talking about you saying you are such a good coach.”
He told me “come work for us, whatever they are paying you there we will double it and I was like ok, give me a week and that was it…I’ve been there from ever since, for over 25 years now,” Ashton said.
The tennis coach has not been selfish with his blessings and has over the years provided tremendous help to children, contributing barrels of tennis equipment including balls, sneakers and rackets among other things.
Ashton has also been donating to his alma mater and says his contributions between tennis and the school, is somewhere in the region of US$150, 000.00 so far.