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A withering return

AFTER 19 years working in high finance in London, Simon Withers has used his return to Perth to make a clean break.

Mr Withers, the son of former senator and Lord Mayor Reg Withers, is still seeking the right professional opportunity but in the meantime has been distracted by his passion for ‘real tennis’.

He is hoping to make the sport less obscure by building Perth’s first real tennis court – a major undertaking that could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.

Mr Withers has been scouring Perth seeking a suitable location.

Possibilities include a joint development with one of the universities – he has been having discussions with the University of Western Australia, which is presently developing a clay court tennis complex at McGilvray Oval.

Another possibility is Montgomery Hall, a heritage-listed building in Mt Claremont.

Mr Withers wants to develop the court on freehold land, to continue the tradition of playing at one location for many years.

“Most courts around the world are more than 100 years old,” he told WA Business News.

“Hampton Court in London is 400 years old and its played on 11 hours a day, seven days a week.”

The freehold condition ruled out Kings Park Tennis Club as a possible location.

“It’s a shame because that would be the perfect place to have it,” Mr Withers said.

If Mr Withers succeeds with his plans, Perth would have Australia’s seventh real tennis court.

Despite the small number of courts here, Australian Rob Fahey is the world’s number one player, while Perth-born Kate Leeming is ranked number three.

The sport is full of tradition, tracing its origins  back 1,000 years to the streets of Europe.

“The game played today is essentially the same as the game played 500 years ago,” Mr Withers said.

“It is the oldest continuously played sport in the world.”

The design of modern courts is modelled on monastery courtyards, with the walls comprising part of the court.

Mr Withers is hoping his court will become a tourist drawcard, combining the court with a public viewing gallery, a cafe and a museum dedicated to both lawn tennis and real tennis.

“There are lots of collectors. Old racquets are still changing hands.

“But there’s no place for it to be displayed.”

Mr Withers said the court would be privately funded and he was hopeful of a commercial return.

“My aim is to make a return, though I’m sure there are other ways to make more money.”

Mr Withers became a big fan of real tennis during his 19-year stint in London.

He initially went for a year to study at Cambridge and ended up joining merchant bank Kleinwort Benson before establishing a corporate finance firm, Anvil Partners.

Since returning to Perth early this year Mr Withers has been appointed by the Federal Government to the Takeovers Panel.

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