YOU’RE A WASTE OF TIME

Hours af­ter Davis Cup hero­ics, Andy Mur­ray de­liv­ers a damn­ing ver­dict on clue­less body run­ning Bri­tish ten­nis

Daily Mail - - Davis Cup – The Aftermath - MARTIN SA­MUEL in Ghent Chief Sports Writer

It had all started so well. there they were, all in a row, Great Bri­tain’s vic­to­ri­ous davis Cup team. Of­fi­cials of the Lawn ten­nis as­so­ci­a­tion looked proudly, pa­ter­nally, on. Yes, the oc­ca­sion had been made pos­si­ble by the ef­forts of one man, a rene­gade who had re­jected the Lta’s nur­tur­ing from an early age, but they were not go­ing to let such tri­fles in­ter­fere with this glo­ri­ous day. here was a great Bri­tish tri­umph and none could deny it.

then Leon Smith, Great Bri­tain’s davis Cup cap­tain, men­tioned the word ‘legacy’, and like a five- set­ter against No­vak djokovic it all be­gan to get away from them a bit af­ter that.

the prob­lem with legacy is that it re­quires a plan and the Lta seem to have scared up a new one of those ev­ery other year, with­out much suc­cess. Changes at the top have brought changes at the bot­tom, in coach­ing and struc­ture, and wildly con­trast­ing views on the way elite per­for­mance is achieved.

the re­sult has been a de­cline in par­tic­i­pa­tion in the key schools de­mo­graphic — all re­search in­di­cates that un­less a per­son plays be­fore the age of 14, he or she is un­likely to par­tic­i­pate reg­u­larly in later life — and a dis­con­nect with elite com­peti­tors, so the £40mil­lion Na­tional ten­nis Cen­tre in Roe­hamp­ton is fre­quently left idle.

there are very few Bri­tish ju­niors of sub­stance emerg­ing and a gen­uine fear that the jolt the sport should re­ceive from the suc­cess of andy Mur­ray and the rest will be squan­dered, much as the Rugby Foot­ball Union failed to cap­i­talise on Eng­land’s vic­tory at the 2003 World Cup.

It was in this cli­mate that the of­fi­cials of the Lta looked on be­nignly, obliv­i­ous to the ap­proach­ing storm as talk of legacy gave way, in­evitably, to a ques­tion about how this could be achieved.

Specif­i­cally, how the man of the mo­ment would go about en­sur­ing his in­spi­ra­tion al­lowed a fresh con­nec­tion to be made be­tween the sport and schools. By the end of what turned out to be a 16-minute cri­sis fo­rum-cum-state of the na­tion ad­dress, the Lta must have wished they had spent more time root­ing for Bel­gium.

the play­ers stopped short of say­ing they had won it de­spite those in charge of Bri­tish ten­nis, but they didn’t stop short of much else.

‘I went to the Na­tional Cen­tre to prac­tise for a cou­ple of days af­ter a tour­na­ment in Shang­hai,’ said Mur­ray. ‘I was there on a Monday at two or three o’clock, and then on tues­day at the same time, and there was not one per­son us­ing any of the in­door courts and not one per­son in the gym.

‘I took pho­tos of it be­cause the place cost £40m and there are no peo­ple. No play­ers prac­tis­ing, noth­ing go­ing on at all, like empty. and, you know, it doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be per­for­mance play­ers in­volved but to have noth­ing is such a shame, to walk in and find no­body there.’

It was a re­mark­able press con­fer­ence, a com­plete free-for-all by the end. Play­ers would in­ter­rupt each other to share their views of the Lta’s many fail­ures and while Mur­ray un­doubt­edly took the lead, as he does on court, his team-mates pro­vided res­o­lute back-up. When Smith pointed out Kyle Ed­mund was prob­a­bly the last grad­u­ate of the Na­tional School to re­ceive Lta coach­ing — that sys­tem was scrapped by chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael downey and per­for­mance di­rec­tor Bob Brett, re­cruited from Cana­dian ten­nis, although Brett has since de­parted — the davis Cup rookie was no less out­spo­ken about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

‘I have spent most of my time at the Na­tional ten­nis Cen­tre,’ said Ed­mund. ‘It is pretty much my base when I go back to the UK — but there are no play­ers to hit with.

‘When you are just one per­son in a cen­tre, or one of just a cou­ple, it is no good. It is healthy to have play­ers around, it makes a good at­mos­phere, it is good for the spirit and for the game as well. It is some­thing that should be backed.’

Smith, an Lta em­ployee and, as a coach, the one mem­ber of the team whose fo­cus is be­yond the self­ish in­di­vid­ual, was per­haps the most damn­ing wit­ness of all.

‘there’s so much change,’ he said. ‘and ev­ery time you change, you have to start again.

‘When we had a squad at the NTC, it was some­thing you could at­tach younger play­ers to and there was at least an en­vi­ron­ment which peo­ple would drop into. Whether it was these guys or those ( ranked) be­tween 200 and 500, who hit the ball well and could spar with ev­ery­body, as long as they worked hard it served a pur­pose.

‘that cer­tainly would have helped a good 14 to 16-year-old. It was the de­ci­sion of Michael and Bob to move that on and now we’ve got a new per­for­mance di­rec­tor in Peter Keen, so that’s another lis­ten­ing pe­riod to go through and strat­egy to un­fold.

‘Over the last eight years I would guess £25m has gone into ju­nior pro­grammes, but maybe it is spread too thinly be­cause it has not worked and there are no ju­niors.’

Jamie Mur­ray added: ‘We went to the US Open and in the last two years there has not been one Bri­tish boy play­ing.

‘Con­sid­er­ing the suc­cess andy has had, I’ve said it a mil­lion times: it is a shame that he has done such amaz­ing things in his ca­reer and for ten­nis in this coun­try and you could get some­body else who has the chance to do what he has done.

‘But, un­for­tu­nately, it does not seem that way — it is not hap­pen­ing or look­ing like hap­pen­ing. that needs to change. We have got a good chance to make the most of it. We have the op­por­tu­nity to make ten­nis re­ally pop­u­lar here.’

‘I don’t know where the next gen­er­a­tion are,’ chimed andy. ‘I feel like I am say­ing “I don’t know” a lot but I gen­uinely don’t. It is a shame, be­cause re­gard­less of whether we had a load of play­ers at the top of the pro­fes­sional game, the ju­niors were never a prob­lem. We al­ways had good ju­niors. We had ju­nior No 1s, we had ju­niors com­pet­ing for Grand Slams on the guys and the girls side. Now it seems that isn’t hap­pen­ing.

‘Katie Swan, I think, is a good young girl but there are not loads com­ing through. It is a bit con­cern­ing not to have any ju­niors in the Slams. Bring­ing them on from ju­nior to se­nior was our prob­lem — but now we don’t even have the ju­niors. It is not ideal.’

It most cer­tainly wasn’t for the Lta, who couldn’t even claim much credit for Swan, now 16 and based in Wichita, Kansas, roughly 4,500 miles away from the de­serted, open plains of Roe­hamp­ton.

It only re­mained for Mur­ray to play the ver­bal equiv­a­lent of the lobbed win­ner that fi­nally brought team Bel­gium to its knees on Sun­day, which he did when de­scrib­ing con­ver­sa­tions with chief ex­ec­u­tive downey as a ‘waste of time’. ‘Noth­ing ever gets done,’ he added. Game, set and match.

It may be that per­for­mance di­rec­tor Keen will come up with a plan to rev­o­lu­tionise Bri­tish ten­nis — much as he did Bri­tish cy­cling — although for now Mur­ray, among oth­ers, re­mains scep­ti­cal.

When the Lta can re­act to a first davis Cup vic­tory in 79 years by ban­ning the Times pho­tog­ra­pher from yes­ter­day’s me­dia ac­tiv­ity, to bet­ter con­trol its im­age and im­ages, one has to won­der about the brains at the top of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Still, no doubt its of­fi­cial shutterbug got plenty of lovely Lta re­ac­tion shots to Mur­ray’s ‘waste of time’ sideswipe. Now, what to go with for the web­site, gen­tle­men? Open mouths, or heads in hands?

moNDAY 10.20am

GETTY IM­AGES

SUN­DAY 4.40pm What a dif­fer­ence a day makes! Crash­ing back to earth: they were joy­ful cel­e­brat­ing Davis Cup suc­cess but (from left) Kyle Ed­mund, Andy Mur­ray, Leon Smith, James Ward and Jamie Mur­ray were the Glums as they slammed the LTA in yes­ter­day’s press con­fer­ence

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