Tennis-playing twins Kerri and Alexis Russell are so fanatical about the sport that they decided to set up their own club.
The ATT (‘A’ Team Tennis) club is located on the outskirts of Ballymena and it has gone from small beginnings to establish itself as a focal point for the sport in the area.
The girls still play on the senior tournament calendar and in Division One of the league league tennis for ATT and Bangor LTC and can look back on a terrific career since they were young and playing juniors.
Together they won many doubles titles, their favourite being the county Antrim championship title at Ballycastle on the grass courts.
And in singles their achievements have been winning the county Antrim championships at U14, U16 and U18 at the same venue.
Alexis and Kerri have also represented ulster in the U18 age group and were a part of the county Antrim team that won the all Ireland inter county championships three years in a row.
Once adults some of their achievements include singles and doubles titles at the West of Ireland championships, County Antrim championships, the Ulster championships, the Fermanagh Open and West of Ulster championship.
Both Kerri and Alexis have represented Ulster at the senior inter-pros a number of times since playing on the senior calendar.
But now their main priority is to ensure the ATT club continues to grow and go from strength to strength on the membership front.
“When we were 17 we knew we wanted to become tennis coaches so we decided to get our coaching qualifications and gained experience over the next few years coaching alongside other coaches in Northern Ireland and London.” Kerri explained.
“While in London we decided we would like to come back home and build two courts and start up our own tennis academy in Ballymena.
“We had previously tried to coach at the people’s park but there were just too many restrictions on the courts opening hours to create a full programme of coaching for kids.
“When we trained as juniors we had to travel to Belfast to train so we wanted to create a new academy and club close to home so that kids from the north east region would have somewhere to train closer to home and we would be able to coach at anytime.
“In the beginning Alexis, our brother Aaron and myself were all starting the venture together.
“The Name A-Team Tennis came from all of us having a name beginning with A (mine being my middle name, Agnes).
“The team tennis part came about because we wanted to create a coaching environment where everyone worked together and supported each other to get better as tennis being an individual sport can be lonely and intimidating at times
“It’s good to have a team for support round you. It took us a year to complete the build, it basically all came together on an A4 page drawing that kept getting bits added to it during the build to include the cabin (our club house), the car park and the viewing areas.
“The majority of the work was done by our mum, dad, a great family friend Robert McMordie, Alexis and myself.
“Hence ATT Academy was formed! We laid blue courts as it was blue courts that we trained on as juniors.
“Our brother Aaron is an artist and hand drew all of our logos which represent ATT.
“We began with one player, we now have over 100 members at the club and coach around 60 juniors and seniors a week.
Building a tennis club isn’t cheap with ground to be prepared the courts to be laid, the car park plus a club house to name just a few expensive add-ons but Kerri says they have no regrets about the venture.
“There were hiccups along the way, the original court surfacing was not a success and the courts had to be resurfaced within the first few years at an extra cost but they are very happy with how it all turned out” she added.
The club has a thriving junior section with many success stories to boast already.
“Since ATT started we have produced two U14 inter-pro players ( Ross McMaster and Lydia Crawford) and two at U18 level (Eva Lennox and David McWhirter),” Kerri explained.
“We have had approximately 20 top 10 Ulster ranked players over the years including Angus Johnston, Josh Crawford, Joe Davies, Chris Neil Smith, Emma Neil Smith. “Ross McMaster started playing tennis at the club when he was nine, has achieved the U14 boys number one ranking in both Ulster and Ireland.
“In 2011, our U14 boys league team won the division one Belfast & District league title and in 2013 our U18 girls team achieved Division One victory also.
“There are currently many young kids training hard at the club to develop their skills and, hopefully, follow in the foot steps of the past ATT junior players.”
But it isn’t just about the pursuit of excellence as, every year, the club organizes a foreign tour which is open to players of all abilities.
“The first club trip was to the Wolfgangsee tennis resort Austria in 2009, it was such a success and everyone enjoyed it so much that we decided to make it a yearly event and we have been to Barcelona and London for the ATP world Tour finals since then,” Kerri said.
Later in the year, from August 11-17, the club is hosting the senior mid Antrim championships having staged U14 and U12 events in recent weeks.