By Melina Harris
As Andy Murray trained under the honeyed, cerulean Californian skies in preparation for the first Masters 1000 event of the year in Indian Wells, his fellow Great British team mates arguably suffered the most humiliating defeat in Britain’s Davis Cup history; losing 3-2 to Lithuania in the Europe/Africa Zone Group II.
The British media has been literally firing outrage since Sunday’s loss at the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), which has had a considerable sum of money at its disposal for years, due to the substantial profits amassed through the Wimbledon Championships every year. For instance, Mark Hodgkinson of the Daily Telegraph spat venomously, ‘There are at least 29 million reasons why the LTA’s officials should have been burning with embarrassment in the Baltic last night. Britain’s governing body, received more than 29 million pounds ($44 million) from the surplus of last summer’s Wimbledon championships and has had that sort of money at their disposal for years, yet could not beat a Lithuanian team of teenagers with a budget of less than 100,000 pounds a year.”
John Lloyd, Great Britain’s team captain has come under attack after five consecutive losses under his leadership and the loss of Murray, adding more fuel to the speculative fire that Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman or even Murray’s coach Miles Maclaghan should take over the reins of our nation’s team. Lloyd told the BBC “We’ll see about my future, it’s too early yet. We’ll just have to see how it goes in the next few days. I said it was going to be a rebuilding process. I would have liked to start with this win but it hasn’t happened.”
Significantly Rusedski’s ‘Twitter’ account read shortly after the loss, “Cannot believe we have lost to Lithuania in the Davis Cup. Unbelievable’ with a retweet of Mr Lloyd’s rather pathetic statement to the BBC: “it was a 50-50 sort of match before the start and they were the better team” directly underneath. Reading between the lines, was Greg attempting to highlight the pitiful negative thinking coming from Lloyd? Indeed, if our own captain believed we only had a 50-50 chance of winning the tie and expressed these sentiments even subconsciously to the team, then it’s hardly surprising they crippled under the pressure without Murray, who sent his best wishes via the site stating: “Good luck to the British boys today. Hitting this morning but got Wardy’s match up on laptop by the court” and tweeted during the deciding rubber, “Just found it on some weird channel on internet. 2 love in the fourth.” I wonder whether Murray feels just a ‘wee’ bit guilty for leaving the lads in the lurch however we must not forget that it was Roger Draper, the LTA’s chief executive who actually encouraged Murray not to compete.
So whose fault is it really? Is it fair to lump the responsibility for the “Death of British Tennis” on Andy Murray, who is single-handedly doing more for its image than the rest of the LTA put together? What is more beneficial to British tennis, a win in the Davis Cup or Murray eventually winning a major by focusing on the main tour events? If the Davis Cup were to be dumped in favor of the Tennis World Cup, then perhaps he could combine the two. Significantly, the International Tennis Federation has announced plans to pay participants in the 2010 Davis Cup considerably more than in the past in response to the threat of the World Cup. Could this inspire Murray to compete? Or do we need a more charismatic captain and patriotic chief executive to lure him back into the fold?
Draper has ordered an urgent internal review stating, “I share the deep disappointment and frustration at this result. Five defeats in a row is unacceptable. So I have asked the LTA player director, Steven Martens to review last week’s performance and result and report back to me and the LTA main board as soon as possible. That review needs to be swift and decisive as it is clear some real improvements need to be made.” Couldn’t Draper take a look himself? It’s hardly rocket science. Perhaps it is this kind of delegation of responsibilities that has led the LTA into this mess, for there has undoubtedly been a series of miscalculations with a colossal amount of money misspent.
As Leigh Sanders reported here on TennisGrandstand.com http://www.tennisgrandstand.com/archives/6050 Mark Petchey, Sky Sports presenter and former coach of Andy Murray, revealed his belief that the money spent on just one national training centre in Roehampton in London has been a glaring fault under the leadership of Draper. He believed instead that “what we needed right then was 30 centres around the country to get a catchment area from every region, every county” and went on to say “if you’re playing in Scotland for example, trying to get to a tennis centre with decent courts etc. is impossible. This money needs to be invested around the country, it’s that simple.”
Clive Carrigan, head of the Professional Tennis Registry in the UK took a more sympathetic approach to the loss stating “As disappointing as the result is there is no other way these guys are going to get adjusted to this type of pressure. Ultimately, it was a pretty new team and they lost by the odd break over five matches. Just because we are playing a relatively small nation in tennis terms doesn’t mean their players can’t play. We need to stick with the young guys and build a team for the future.” However, it cannot go unnoticed that our lack of strength in depth in the men’s game is abysmal in view of the millions spent on building British tennis.
Regarding the LTA’s budget, I would have to agree with Petchey, as throughout my years involved as a county player within the LTA system as a junior, I have continually witnessed the way LTA funding has been concentrated on a few players in selected areas and often these players already have funding from wealthy parents anyway. I do not doubt that we have the sporting talent in Britain, but many are not picked up at a young age and without the financial backing of wealthy parents do not have a hope in hell of succeeding through the system in the UK. There needs to be a radical restructuring of the way money is spent in Britain. Public courts around the country are left in disrepair, empty and forlorn while clubs are elitist and expensive. Employ top coaches on public courts in poorer areas and perhaps we may find our strength in depth and the players with the desire and fight of the Lithuanians.
Great Britain’s task is now to avoid an unthinkable relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group III, the lowest tier of the competition and will meet Turkey in a play off in July, but the question on everyone’s mind is who will have the guts to take over? Who has the courage to lead our Davis Cup team on an “Everest-esque” climb back up to where we belong?
According to Boris Becker, who recently served briefly as Germany’s Davis Cup manager more than ten years ago and now lives a stone’s throw from Wimbledon, there is only one man for the job, the one name that will forever be etched into the consciousness of every British tennis supporter or this generation: our beloved Tim Henman, who he described as ‘a big role model’ thus capable of taking on the role. He believes Tim could communicate better with the young team as “It’s very difficult to speak the language of the kids today. You have to be not too far away from them in years to have some sort of communication with them. I think Tim would have that, plus he was a great player”.
Perhaps this is Henman’s chance to make amends for putting us through sheer hell every June: a slice of divine justice? However, it is known that he intended to take a few years off from tennis before making any kind of return and believes the Captain’s role is a thankless task, thus could Greg be the man left for the job? But according to sources, Greg is not exactly Murray’s favorite and let’s be honest where would the team be without our main man? Furthermore, LTA player director, Steve Martens has said “We have made no direct contact at all (with Rusedski)” but did go on to describe him as a “fantastic coach”. What about Miles Maclaghan? I cannot honestly foresee him giving up his integral role as coach to Murray any time in the near future. It’s certainly a fascinating choice for the LTA who cannot afford to make yet another mistake.
Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.