Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Davis Cup Postmortem

Not surprisingly John Lloyd has resigned as Britain's Davis Cup captain, but the problem is clearly not the captain. He picked the players he had available to him, but they simply were not good enough. Lloyd has criticised Andy Murray for not making himself available, but the fact that he didn't play highlighted the appalling weakness in the men's game in Britain. Even if Dan Evans had won the fifth set, and therefore the tie, the situation with the state of British tennis would be unaltered.

The LTA deserve some criticism, but making them the scapegoat for everything that is wrong means that we are not addressing the real issues. Inevitably after a defeat like this the amount of money the LTA receive is highlighted, with the implicit assumption that they should be able to produce world beating players with the millions they have available for player development. However the problems are at grass roots level: the clubs are not producing the players with the required talent and motivation, and are never likely to.

In Britain, tennis is for the most part a recreation and not a sport, and the problem is with the private tennis clubs: they are generally self-funding and run by their members as a social club, and the LTA has no real say in how these private clubs are run. I was chairman of such a club for a few years and I know that most committee members want their club run as a social club where mostly middle-aged people can get a friendly game of doubles. Many clubs do not consider that tennis development is really anything to do with them - in fact they expect that people who want to join the club already know how to play. Juniors are tolerated at best, coaching is poor or non-existent (and too expensive for most families), and competitive opportunities are limited. In my experience juniors find the average club deeply unattractive, and most of the talented players generally leave and take up other sports.

I believe the only way forward is to create another layer of sports tennis clubs at grass roots level, orientated around juniors, single play, development and competition. This could probably only be done by cooperating with local authorities and schools. This would be difficult to achieve and probably very expensive, but unless we address this problem tennis in the UK is doomed to continual failure.