JOHN ALEXANDER'S boyhood backyard tennis court is now home to a stack of apartments.
He was on court when Australia was on song in world tennis, bestriding the baseline from sun-up until school.
Coaching lessons were served up on Saturdays, competition tennis on Sundays. The thwack of tennis ball on taut strings was a constant, until the court was razed for residential units - outplayed and overrun by that other great Australian passion: property development.
The former Davis Cup stalwart and top 10 player was reminded of this recently as he watched another home and tennis court - which he sold 18 months ago - bulldozed for an apartment block in Sydney's north. The court beyond his own went the same way, as did a third on his old street - all in a week.
Across the nation, the backyard tennis court is in retreat.
"We don't have players winning championships any more and the real cause is the loss of courts," Alexander said. "Wave after wave of real estate development has cost us the most fundamental asset of tennis.
"Tennis used to be Australia's top leisure activity. Now it could become a curiosity if the loss of courts is not addressed."
Alexander believes as many as 90 per cent of backyard courts in Sydney's northern suburbs have been ripped up for apartment blocks.
In an article on the apparent "end of the golden age" in Australian sport, London's Observer newspaper this month claimed deep social change had upended Australian tennis.
"The home tennis court has fallen victim to the 10-metre swimming pool, to the subdivided block, to the granny flat, to the stack of apartments. A culture of leisure has transformed itself into a culture of property development," it said.
Indeed, Lleyton Hewitt is more Australia's last gasp than great hope. He will play in his 13th Australian Open this month ranked 70 in the world and the lone countryman inside the top 100. Only two Australian women - Samantha Stosur and Casey Dellacqua - sit inside the women's top 100.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said the disappearance of backyard tennis courts is partly to blame. "As a child you would spend hours on the backyard tennis court and that doesn't happen any more. Now kids have got so many other things to do. I think the backyard tennis court has been part of the culture and success of tennis - that's why we've got to get back to rekindling that culture."
Mark Edmondson, whose 1976 win was our last men's singles victory at the Australian Open, said the cost of installing a new court has soared to almost $100,000.
Tennis Australia agrees the demise has been costly. It has committed about $5 million in the past two years to reverse this trend by offering rebates on tennis club courts. It also provides free design and development advice on building backyard courts and has not ruled out future financial incentives.
It sees a future in backyard courts like the one on which Anna Wilton, an under-12s champion from Balwyn, in Melbourne's east, dreams of one day playing at the Australian Open or Wimbledon.
There were once perhaps eight backyard tennis courts along her dogleg street. James Wilton, 52, said a nearby court was recently dug up to build new homes. "You'll see more of it as the value of land goes up and people don't play," he said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.