SUZI Riley from the acclaimed tennis International High Performance Centre at the USN Bolton Arena has a VIP fan – Judy Murray.

The legendary coach, and mother of superstar Andy Murray, recently praised head performance coach Suzi in a Daily Telegraph article about bringing girls through in the sport.

“Our strongest pockets within the UK, in terms of numbers of girls coming through, tend to be in places where there is a strong female coach,” she said. “It happens in Bolton, for example, where Suzi Riley is head performance coach.

“That’s no coincidence. But we need more Suzi Rileys around the country to produce a more girl-friendly, girl-productive environment.”

It is no coincidence Suzi should be singled out by such an influential figure in tennis.

In the 10 years she has been at the Arena, the Australian has helped to make the academy one of only five high performance tennis centres in the country – “That was always my goal," she said – and the only one in the North.

Suzi was born in Melbourne, Australia, one of three siblings of a tennis-loving family. Her twin brother is a tennis coach, her older brother and her parents play, and her grandparents were keen players.

She started hitting a ball when she was three but her parents ensured she and her two brothers enjoyed a variety of sports growing up.

That initial ethos has stayed with the 37-year-old mother-of-two.

“Children need to play a variety of sports, not just one, to develop all the fundamental motor-skills,” she said.

A talented junior, she played at a high level and her role models were Martina Hingis and Maureen “Little Mo” Connolly.

“They were short like me (Suzi is around 5ft 2in)," she said. "Which means you have to work out other players, find their weaknesses and employ tactics to beat them.

A combination of determination and talent gave her success at home, but she had her eyes set on a tennis scholarship in the USA.

She started this at Fresno City College, became number four on the US junior college circuit and then went to San Jose State University on a full athletic scholarship for a year to continue her business degree.

She returned to Australia to finish her studies but a chance meeting with Canadian professional player Marie-Eve Pelletier, whom she helped with advice, took her to the European tour in a coaching capacity.

Marie-Eve was the first of several top players to receive Suzi’s help. At venues like Wimbledon, she realised she was passionate about performance coaching so she sought out the tour’s professional coaches “and just learned so much”.

The dye was cast. At home, she took coaching qualifications and built up a club coaching business

“I’d realised from travelling Europe and America helping professional players that the skills needed for the women’s game needed to transcend all age groups, right down to girls starting to take up the game,” she said. “I also found that girls learned in a different way to boys. They needed to make a relationship with their coach, and they did better in groups, in teams.”

Her brother was in Manchester when Suzi came over to the UK to be based in Europe and travel with professional players. She approached the Arena and was taken on to coach the top girls. After being made head of girls’ tennis, Suzi became head of performance tennis.

As a result, top players sought out the Arena. Naomi Broady, now the British number three, was coached by Suzi and remains a supporter, happy to hit with the Arena’s talented young players.

Over the years, the coaching academy has built up a strong reputation, especially for bringing on youngsters from an early age. It currently has 13 coaches, coaching players from three years old all the way up to professionals. The mini-tennis programme has 250 youngsters, aged from three to 10. In the junior programme, players aged from 10 to 14 work towards Tennis Europe rankings, and the 14 to 18-year-olds are looking towards the professional game or college tennis scholarships in the USA.

Performance Centre youngsters come from all over Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Cumbria to the Arena twice a week.

“There are more girls on the Arena programmes than at any of the other high performance centres,” said Suzi.

She recognises the women’s game is different to the men’s, needs different skills developing and they need to train against other girls at the right level.

“I try to motivate them by telling them about my experiences with professional players," she said.

"I tell them if they want to play at Wimbledon they have to have an aggressive game that works on grass, more drive volleys, taking the ball early.”

Her days of accompanying professional players around the world’s tennis venues are on hold but her hunger to create future champions and help players be the best they can is undiminished.

Judy Murray, the former British Fed Cup captain, visits the Bolton Arena with her Miss-Hits scheme for younger girls. And if she believes cloning Suzi Riley is the way forward for the UK’s female tennis, then it’s very likely she’s right.