What’s wrong with British tennis?

With its Davis Cup team embarassing defeat against Lithuania in March, british tennis has reached a new low.
This loss – which costed captain John Lloyd his job – was Britain’s fifth in a row and they have now to face … Turkey(!) to avoid dropping into the lowest tier of the competition.

This Davis Cup disaster reflects how bad Britain is at tennis:

– Murray’s defeat at this year’s Oz Open final prolonged British Slam drought. Right after his semifinal win against Tsonga, Federer had joked that Britain had been searching for a male Grand Slam champion for about 150,000 years.
In fact it’s “only” 74 years: Fred Perry was the last to win a Slam in 1936 (he won Wimbledon and US Open that year).

Murray is actually the only british player in the top 100 (France and Spain have each 12 players in the top 100). But like Henman and Rusedski, he is not a product of british tennis structure, as he spent many years at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Spain.
Alex Bogdanovic, the second best ranked (number 166 as of June, 10 2010) could be seen as the poster child of british tennis failure: the 26 yr old has received a Wimbledon wild card eight years in a row, losing in the first round everytime.

– As for the women, Virginia Wade won 3 Slams including the centennial Wimbledon in 1977, and Sue Barker won Roland Garros in 1976. And these days, well, hmm… Elena Baltacha is the only player but she can’t be considered top 20 worthy or Slam contender. In fact, the last brit woman to have reached a WTA tour final is Joe Durie in 1990! Yep, 20 years ago. Go figure… And the last one to have captured a title is Sara Gomer in 1988.

However:

– Wimbledon generates tens of millions of pounds each year and the LTA benefits from it. The Lawn Tennis Association received £30m from Wimbledon last year (overall budget: £60m).

– The LTA spends some £25m a year on the development of “high-performance” players

– The LTA hired high profile coaches like Paul Annacone and Steven Maertens

– Players benefit of world class facilities at the National Tennis Centre. This 40 million pounds centre opened in 2007 is equiped with 22 courts, gymnasia, hydrotherapy pool, facilities for coaches and players…

So, what’s the problem? Training facilities? Motivation? Culture? Abilities?

French and Saunders spoof with Sue Barker:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoqP37nRNmU[/youtube]
By the way, am I the only one who thinks that Jen Saunders looks a bit like Nathalie Tauziat in that video?

– According to Kevin Garside of the Telegraph, GB is “a tennis nation two weeks a year”, and British tennis is paying the price of generations of neglect
– For former pro Mark Petchey, there are not enough courts in Britain by which you can train properly. Judy Murray (mother of you know who) shares the same opinion as she said that, rather than building one £40 million centre, the LTA should have funded forty £1 million centres across the country.
– Tony Pickard (former coach of serve and volley god Stefan Edberg believes “Wimbledon should stop the money they give to the LTA for a year and tell them to live within their means
– Neil Harman of timesonline proposes a seven-point plan to rescue British tennis.

So, what’s next?

It’s not all bad news though. Laura Robson and Heather Watson are promising players. Australian born Robson, Wimbledon junior champion in 2008 at only 14, has been praised by Billie Jean King as “the real deal”. BJK knows a thing or two about tennis so we probably should trust her.
Heather Watson, 2009 US Open junior champion, made her WTA tour debut in Miami this year.
Success is not guaranteed neither for Robson nor Watson, but they are British tennis’ brightest hopes.

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