With only Andy Murray of the British players managing to advance past the first round at this year’s Wimbledon championships, and only him and Elena Baltacha within the top 100 in the World, the question has to be asked, “What is wrong with British tennis?”
It seems that the short answer is, “A lot!” However, the general feeling is that the core of the problem is the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the way that they prioritise and distribute their funding. Currently, the bulk of the LTA’s funding seems to go towards funding senior players’ professional careers and enticing foreign coaches. A prime example of this is Andy Murray. Although an incredible talent and undoubtedly on his way to winning a grand slam, the LTA felt the need to seek coaches from abroad. Brad Gilbert, an American, was tempted to the post by a colossal salary of £700,000, only to be sacked by Murray a short while later due to a clash of personalities.
According to many experts on the subject including Tim Henman and Judy Murray, the LTA should instead be focusing their funds on grass roots tennis and ensuring that tennis becomes more accessible and affordable to all. Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash also heavily criticised the LTA for neglecting grass roots tennis and labelled them as “the laughing stock” of the world’s tennis associations.
However, it appears that the problem is not only the lack of funding at grass roots but also the development of promising young players through to the professional level. This failure seems to be down to the lack of performance coaching available in the UK. Roger Draper, chief executive of the LTA, has stated that £10 million a year is invested in facilities and that there are 20 High Performance Centres across the country. However, if this is the case, then why don’t we have more young players coming through the system?
Not one of Britain’s last 3 most successful players came through the LTA coaching ranks as young players, with Andy Murray leaving Scotland at the age of 15 to train at a prestigious tennis academy in Barcelona and Greg Rusedski training in Canada. It seems therefore that the LTA need to focus more on providing world class coaching and facilities to develop young players throughout their careers.
There are of course exceptions to these failures. Apart from the obvious Andy Murray, Britain’s top women’s player, Elena Baltacha, has also produced some good results recently. These include a win at the AEGON Trophy here in Nottingham in June and reaching a career high ranking of no.52 in the World. Our juniors are also performing well with both Heather Watson, former junior US Open champion, and Laura Robson, former junior Wimbledon champion, impressing at this year’s Wimbledon women’s championships. There were also some surprisingly good performances from our boys, with 17 year old Oliver Golding reaching the junior semi-finals after beating the no.1 seed, and an all British boys doubles final with Liam Broady and Tom Farquharson coming out on top.
However, these seem to be the exception rather than the rule. If we want to see more than a handful of good British players competing on the World stage, then it seems that the LTA seriously need to reconsider the distribution of their funding and need to focus more on grass roots tennis and developing talented young players.
Lowri Wyn Morgan