Could it be advantage Great Britain?
As Euro 2012 dominates the media’s sporting agenda, one could assume England’s impending debacle at the competition is soon approaching. As other sports currently lie in the shadows of European football, history was made on 11 June, as Rafael Nadal became the only man ever to win seven French Open titles. What was most concerning though, was the same issue which has echoed through British tennis for decades, being the perpetual absence of Britons winning at the top tier of world tennis.
As another Wimbledon Championship looms, there no doubt that soon after the back pages of the national press will be saturated with depressing depictions of the state of tennis, as another Briton fails to do what is needed once again. Every year foreign talents, male or female, take to the world famous courts of SW19 and one of them is fortunate enough to leave with one of the coveted tournament trophies. It is normally at this time in the summer which prompts a bout of soul searching among British tennis fans and the governing body.
All year round the sport’s top board, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), and over the last few seasons especially, have come under fierce scrutiny due to their failure to meet targets. The criticism has been hurled towards a somewhat beleaguered Chief Executive, Rodger Draper. Even the country’s longstanding number one, Andy Murray, has also often struggled to bite his lip when talking about the subject.
The LTA have most certainly been trying to eradicate the continuous drought in success for British tennis, since they installed their 10 year Blueprint Plan in 2006. After Draper left his previous post as CEO of Sport England he took on the same role at the LTA and instantly outlined four areas where the sport needed to improve. The main one was to increase participation of the sport at all ages, then to improve the performance standards of aspiring players, to raise the standards of the major events like Wimbledon, The AEGON Championships and The Masters and to maintain the upkeep of tennis services provided around the country. However, six years into the plan the LTA faced a damaging setback. After a spending review by Sport England they decided to reduce its funding to the LTA by £530,000 earlier this year. Their Active People Survey showed that the average number of adults playing tennis at least once a week declined from 487,500 in 2007-08 to 375,800 in mid-December of 2011. That’s a decrease of 25%. Surely, where the LTA’s most imperative goal – to increase participation of the sport is clearly not working, then one would assume the accessibility to tennis is being somewhat hindered. Our European neighbours France have 8000 indoor courts and we have just 1500. Clearly we have gone wrong somewhere.
With the steady decline in participation and a lacklustre performance in producing world class winning players, the impending shadow of failure still hangs over the LTA’s Blueprint Plan. It can be assured that the significance of Fred Perry’s Wimbledon title will once again torment the minds of many British tennis fans after this year’s tournament. Although, it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Brits, a golden generation of talented players are soon to be unleashed onto the world circuit. And before you go to re-read that statement in disbelief, I will bombard you with some enlightening facts. According to the International Tennis Federations junior rankings, Great Britain has 23 boys in the top 300 in the world, that’s more than Spain, France, Germany, Russia and the USA. Whilst the girls are also on target with 6 in the top 300, but still are heavily overshadowed by the likes of Romania and Czech Republic.
Young talents like Clay Crawford, Joshua Ward-Hibbert, Kyle Edmond and Luke Bambridge can be the people to change the depressing trend of British tennis and if given the appropriate support. They are different from previous juniors we have had before, because now there is considerable depth to the talent pool and their hunger and desire has been illustrated by their compelling victories across the junior international circuit.
Unlike before Great Britain is now setting the standard among junior tennis, players are being produced due to the LTA’s lavish spending which it awards it’s ‘golden generation’ of talent. However, the LTA must be careful not to mollycoddle them with unnecessary financial aid, as they have done historically. Where their European counterparts are staying in dingy hostels whilst competing in ITF’s, they attain a roar hunger and gutsy passion, possibly mounted from their ambition to free their family from poor living environments back home. Whereas our affluent Brits are still being put up in plush hotels with a masseur on demand, I fear these juniors could get caught up in a whirlwind of comfort. But it is for certain the potential is there and for the first time there is lots of it. The governing body has to be strategic, cautious and they must spend their money wisely so British players can retain shear desire, hunger and aggression when competing in the hostile environments of the tennis world, and may be – just may be, soon Fred Perry and Virginia Wade may not be the only Britons to win a grand slam…but let’s not hold our breath.
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