After Great Britain won their first Davis Cup for 79 years, engaging millions of Brits in the process, there is simply no excuse for the LTA to not capitalise on that momentum.
‘Golden times for British Tennis’?
After a string of astounding performances from the Murrays, James Ward, and Captain Leon Smith to lift the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936, along with Britain boasting the second best player in the world, British tennis has rarely been better placed.
Rarely better placed in the elite game, that is.
For those of us who have been inspired to play by the achievements of the aforementioned names and their professional counterparts, we know that the issue is not the public’s lack of desire to play, but rather the continued lack of opportunity to do so.
We only have to look back to the ‘Golden Times’ of summer 2013 when the nation stopped to bask in the glory of Wimbledon victory by arguably the greatest tennis player this country has ever had. That was the Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) opportunity to ensure the future of British tennis was bright, and it was spurned. They have been given a second chance.
That downward spiral led to the removal of former LTA Chief Executive Roger Draper, replaced by current CEO Michael Downey in January 2014. A repeat of 2013 simply cannot occur. However, few people surrounded by the game are anticipating anything different.
The Future’s (Not So) Bright?
Statistics suggest that the current problem with British tennis is not getting people to pick up a racket and play socially, but rather that provisions are not in place for high level young performers to reach the ‘next level’. One of the reasons for this is surely that those in positions of influence are simply failing to understand the problems that we face.
One of those individuals is former Davis Cup captain David Lloyd. After failing with the British Davis Cup team during his tenure in charge, resigning just before Britain faced a play-off with Turkey that might have seen them relegated to the third tier of the competition, Lloyd has decided to make his own assumptions as to why Britain is falling short of producing the next batch of elite young players.
During an interview with The Telegraph, Lloyd stated that he does not believe Andy Murray “goes out of his way to present the game”.
That is not his job.
Andy plays tennis: he plays it incredibly well and surely better than anyone we have had before. So what is Mr Lloyd suggesting that he does? Travel around Britain to scout top young players before then coaching them and driving them to the exceptional £40 million National Tennis Centre in Roehampton himself? Hardly an option, given the centre has been closed for over a year now.
Professional athletes do not choose to be role models. Many would argue that they are not, and off the court, track, or field, why should they be? On the court, Andy has brought this nation two Grand Slam titles (including that elusive Wimbledon), an Olympic Gold and Silver medal, and pioneered an extraordinary effort by the Great British team to win the Davis Cup for the first time since Bunny Austin and Fred Perry led the side to victory in 1936. Is that not enough?
What legacy has been left behind by David Lloyd since his retirement from the game? Well, we have a number of tennis and fitness centres around the country. These are all private and thus exclusive to a small percentage.
Solution – Remove even more tournaments?
The first step for any highly talented youth player has to be playing competitive, challenging matches against other talented opponents. This has always been achievable for British players with several Challenger, Futures and Pro Series events throughout the year to compete in. However, after fewer events this year than any other of recent times, it would appear that the considerable progressions of Brits such as Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund in 2015 is going to make no difference to the LTA’s effort to bring through the ‘next generation’.
The Lawn Tennis Association have put forward the proposal of four Challenger events for 2016 that are now subject to International Tennis Federation (ITF) approval: Eastbourne ($50k) for the Women, Manchester (€42.5k) for the Men, and Surbiton and Ilkley for both. Furthermore, on the men’s tour specifically, there will be just 6 ITF Future’s events for men in the United Kingdom throughout the entire calendar year, compared to 11 last year and 14 in 2014. Those in positions who can make a difference need to do so right now and change this. That specifically incudes Michael Downey as Chief Executive of this country’s Tennis Association. That does not include Andy Murray.
Andy plays tennis for 11 ½ months of the year, around the world; it is not realistic or even feasible for Andy to sit in meetings and help organise tournaments, coaching sessions, and other aspects of player development whilst he is playing professional tennis. More and more pundits and former players appear all too willing to voice their opinions about whose responsibility it is to get British tennis back on track and shift the weight off their own shoulders. British tennis needs someone to take responsibility themselves.
Should we expect Brits to continue seeking their education abroad?
Quite simply, yes. Do they have any other choice? Andy’s brother Jamie is a prime example of how negative the experience of British coaching can be for talented young players. At the age of 12 Jamie moved away from home to train at the LTA’s academy in Cambridge. The older Murray soon returned however from an experience that almost led to the Scot falling out of love with tennis, with younger brother Andy commenting later that he felt the LTA had ‘ruined’ his brother.
Little has changed since Jamie was a child seeking to gain a tennis education that would enable him to become a professional player. Should younger brother Andy have never met a certain Rafael Nadal and been informed about what a superb set-up Emilio Sanchez had for young players in Spain, we may never have become acquainted with this pair of brothers from the small Scottish town of Dunblane. Nowadays, hoards of our best British prospects are heading over to the States, where they can receive university education under a large tennis scholarship. The truth is, there are better options abroad at all levels of the game.
Until Andy Murray retires, it seems the fate of British tennis is in the hands of the much-maligned LTA. After his experiences, though, will Murray eventually set up a similar academy here in the UK upon his retirement? Hopefully, with Murray still only 28 years old, he’ll be entertaining us and inspiring the next generation of tennis players for many years to come. No thanks to the LTA, of course.