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Branson’s Virgin Gyms Signs Deal with Tennis Star Robson

Virgin Active Ltd., the health club chain owned by U.K. billionaire Richard Branson, has signed a deal with British tennis star Laura Robson.

Robson, who won junior Wimbledon in 2008 at the age of 14, will become the chain’s first tennis ambassador for two years, Virgin Active said today. It declined to give financial details on the agreement, which starts on March 4 to coincide with World Tennis Day.

“There are not only health benefits to playing tennis, but it’s a great way to meet new people,” Robson, 19, said in an interview today at the Chiswick Riverside Health & Racquet Club in west London, where she started playing when she was eleven years old.

Robson added she wants to inspire girls -- particularly the ones who drop out of sports at an early age -- to pick up tennis.

“It would be great to get more young girls and children in general to play more,” she said. “Hopefully through this, more people will stick with it.”

Robson found success in 2012, winning a silver medal in doubles with Andy Murray at the London Olympics in August. At the U.S. Open, Robson ousted former major champions Li Na of China and Belgium’s Kim Clijsters to become the first British woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament since 1998.

Last month, Robson reached the third round of the Australian Open, eliminating former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic along the way. She is currently ranked at a career-high No. 43 on the women’s WTA tour.

Young, Fit

“She’s a perfect fit for our brand because she’s fit and she’s young and she’s successful,” Gary Stewart, head of racquets at Virgin Active, said in an interview.

Virgin has more than 100 clubs in the U.K. including 21 with racquet sports. It spent more than one million pounds ($1.5 million) on new court surfaces and facilities since it took over the sites from Esporta. Virgin Active bought Esporta Racquets and Non-Racquets Holdings Ltd. for 77.6 million pounds in 2011.

Virgin Active will offer cardio tennis, a junior tennis academy and adult tennis lessons. It will open up its cardio lessons to all of its 70,000 members, Stewart said. Virgin currently has 20,000 customers who play tennis .

Three clubs where the tennis program has already been introduced have seen good results, Stewart said. “On average, tennis participation has increased 75 percent, and we’ve seen membership double.”

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