When it comes to tennis, Yvonne Fantin knows how to expertly serve a ball. 

The shorthaired blond has been playing tennis since she was a little girl and is the current Head Coach at Epping-based Topseed Tennis Academy, one of Melbourne’s fastest growth areas in the Northern suburbs.

However, her free-of-charge program catering specifically for Muslim women and girls is proof that she is also stellar at serving the community.

Her “Muslim Women and Girls Tennis Program” kicked off in early February 2017 and is running free of charge on a weekly basis for the duration of 45 minutes each.

Yvonne advertised the free six lessons as “an inclusive program where women and girls can learn to play tennis in a culturally respectful environment”. Within days, the program was fully booked out and Yvonne forced to add people to a waiting list.

Forty Muslim women and girls are regularly attending the lessons at the moment, with the majority being scarfed women in their twenties and up. Many have brought their daughters with them to introduce them to the sport.

When asked what inspired her to cater specifically to Muslim women and girls, Yvonne states that she used to coach a group of Muslim girls in her regular classes but although they enjoyed it, most of them did not continue with tennis.

“I thought about the reasons why, the barriers they faced and how I could create an environment to encourage more Muslim women and girls to participate”, Yvonne recalls.

She developed the program to solely cater to the sensitivities and struggles with a capacity to make sport participation challenging to women and girls of the Muslim faith.

“I wanted to increase the involvement of Muslim women and girls into tennis, without compromising their religious beliefs or cultural values. My aim is to introduce them to tennis, so that it can be a sport they can play at a recreational level, or take it further and play professionally if they choose”, she said.

Tennis players: Safiyyah and friend Aishah.

As an outcome, Yvonne put together a program, where an all female coaching team has been educated on the unique needs required regarding Islam and women in sports.

As fellow tennis coach Kate puts it: “We understand the dress code of Muslim women and encourage them to wear whatever they feel comfortable in to the sessions.”

As current research shows, a negative body image is a hot topic and one of the biggest contributing factors from preventing women from being physically active.

Thus, another of Yvonne’s aims for the Women and girls only program is to “help them feel more confident, improve their psychological wellbeing and promote physical health.”

Yvonne applied for funding of the program which was being granted in last year’s November, giving the program the final go-ahead. It is funded by Tennis Victoria, the State Government of Victoria and Topseed Tennis as part of the ACE (Accessible Community Equality) Inclusion and Diversity Program.

What better way to measure the success of the program than by seeing the sweaty yet happy faces of its regular female participants.

Twenty three year-old Khodijah, 23, has always been keen to try tennis but never got to do anything about it. When she heard about the program, she was interested right away: “I loved how all different Muslim women and their children could come, get along and participate in doing sport. It’s also great to see housewives out of the house and ladies participating in sports, which is encourages in Islam, as one should look after his/her God-given body.”

Her 10-year-old cousin Mariam nods in agreement: “I absolutely love it. It’s been great fun and we laugh a lot in between.”

Next to them, Fatima, a mother of three boys, states: “I joined to have some me some me time. I met some lovely ladies in a pleasant environment without any judgement. It’s an excellent initiative and the trainers are wonderful.”

Her sentiment is shared by Laila, 45,  who has been inspired by the program to continue playing tennis after the program will have finished. “I want to keep going. It is a lot of fun and you can play comfortably covered,” she said.

To find out more about the program or tennis in general, you are welcome to contact Yvonne Fantin via her homepage http://www.topseedtennisacademy.com.au