WHEN John Feaver took his first steps on to the courts at Avenue Tennis Club with the simple aim of defeating his elder sister, he could barely have dreamt of a career that would involve beating Bjorn Borg, setting Wimbledon records and playing in front of capacity crowds at Roland Garros.

Yet as potential stars of the future scurried around those same courts one sunny Monday evening in March as part of an initiative funded by Feaver’s charity, the 67-year-old reminisced fondly about the experiences the sport has given (and continues to give) him.

A keen cricketer as well as tennis player in his early years, Feaver earned a sporting scholarship to Millfield School which “taught me what you had to do if you wanted to make it”.

The true turning point, however, came just after he left the school.

“I played in a tournament between people who hadn’t got to the quarter-finals of the national championships – a ‘battle of the losers’,” Feaver said.

“I won that aged 17. Someone came up to me and said ‘congratulations, you leave on Thursday’. I said ‘what do you mean, where am I going?’ and he replied ‘Australia’.”

Playing down under for a year was Feaver’s prize and, having opted to take the plunge instead of taking up a place at college, it was to be the making of him – though not after a lengthy journey.

“They didn’t tell me we had to go by ship, so it took eight and a half weeks,” he said.

“I checked in at Southampton with 2,500 people – you gave a passport and £10, it didn’t matter who you were. The rooms had 34 cabins and there were some tough people on board – I grew up very quickly on that boat.”

Feaver went on to play at Wimbledon between 1971 and 1989, setting a new aces record (42) in defeat against John Newcombe in 1974.

“The record lasted 27 years but I lost the match, which was a shame,” Feaver recalls.

“I beat Bjorn Borg twice in around 1976 or ‘77 and beat McEnroe in the doubles around that time.”

Feaver’s best showing in a Grand Slam came in the 1982 French Open – a tournament he very nearly didn’t feature in at all.

“My rating wasn’t high enough to qualify as part of a doubles pairing with another English player,” he begins.

“Fortunately, there was a Spanish player waiting outside.

“We realised we could get in as a doubles pairing, we won the first match 7-5 in the fifth set then beat the number two seeds.

“We got to the semi-finals, which a British player hadn’t done for a long time, and my partner didn’t speak any English!

“We had a match point to get to the final on centre court at Roland Garros in front of 30,000 people.

“We lost it and then lost the match – the guys we lost became champions after the people they played got injured in the second game.”

After his playing days, Feaver became a commercial director on the board at Wimbledon and has been in charge of player relations at SW19 for 34 years.

“The prize money has gone up a lot since I played but I’ve never heard a player ask what the prize money is,” he said.

“It is about the pride in winning and losing. People are surprised when I say that but the players don’t even know sometimes how much they have won.

“The entourages may be much bigger now but the principles of the top players are the same – it is a privilege to play and it is the pride of performance when you are there.

“The respect the players have for the game is great.”

In addition, Feaver runs Performance Plus Sport (PPS) with his son James, also a former professional. The six-week courses they are putting on at Avenue are proving popular, and the third instalment began on Tuesday evening.

“The playing side is only half of it – the youngsters we see here, hopefully they will play well but also play with smiling faces,” he said.

“If you can do something well it will whet your appetite to play more and make friends – I made a lot of friends on court.”

For information on how to get involved, visit avenuetennis.com