Glory can’t hide failure at the top
This being British tennis, it did not take long before the champagne was going flat. Within 18 hours of the joyous scenes that greeted the country’s first Davis Cup triumph since 1936, the state of the domestic game below the brilliance of Andy Murray was being harshly examined — partly by the man himself.
it was always going to be the case that success in the team competition would shine a light on the wider state of affairs. And as so often, in the awkwardness of what at times sounded more like a postmortem, the Lawn Tennis Association did not see it coming.
some of the frustration that emerged yesterday among the players stems from the fact that, when Murray began winning Grand slams, the LTA were completely unprepared to exploit that.
They are more ready now and getting more people to play tennis is now the No 1 goal of the governing body. That makes good sense, even if some of the marketing gobbledegook that accompanies it from chief executive Michael Downey does not.
Grass roots participation is not a sexy subject compared to the elite end of the game, but it is nonetheless hugely important and there are early signs of an improvement.
When Andy Murray was speaking of what people ‘close to me’ are saying on that subject, you can read for that his mother Judy.
she works tirelessly in promoting the game at junior level and is not convinced the right things are being done. But at least the governing body is trying.
Where they have continued to look so clueless is in the higher profile area of performance tennis. This is not surprising as there are so few people at the top of the organisation who know much about it.
Downey has proved particularly hapless in this area, especially when it came to his shortlived appointment of renowned Australian on-court coach Bob Brett in a supremo role that he was never going to be suited to.
his response to Brett’s swift departure has been to appoint cycling’s Peter Keen as interim performance director until the end of next summer.
Although he did not repeat it yesterday, Andy Murray gave his reaction to that in a Sportsmail interview earlier this month, and he spoke for many inside the British game.
‘i don’t understand employing someone on an interim basis who doesn’t know anything about tennis,’ Murray told us. ‘British tennis is a wide and complicated thing and it could take a few years to properly understand it, so i don’t really get that.’
Downey has backed himself into a corner with the Keen appointment, because he has little alternative but to give him the job on a permanent basis next year. if he does not it will mean admitting another big mistake that has wasted yet more time, putting his own future in even more doubt. how urgently things need to be done for the long term, when Murray has retired, is emphasised by one appalling statistic: no British boy has gained entry to a junior Grand slam event on merit since the 2013 Us Open.
The latest idea to come out of Roehampton is to select up to 20 juniors for scholarships that will see support lavished upon them. They are required to write a 500-word essay on why they are deserving of this. several former British players who have made a decent
stab at the diffi- cult business of succeeding in international tennis have looked at the scheme and rolled their eyes in despair, believing it repeats mistakes of the past.
And when it comes to yesterday’s criticisms of the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton it is also worth noting that leading women, such as Jo Konta and heather Watson, have said similar things.
As far as the future of the Davis Cup team goes, much will depend on how often Andy Murray can be persuaded to play.
he has all but committed to next year’s first round against Japan but is wavering about the potential quarter-final because of its proximity to the Olympics. he will now take a week off before heading to Dubai for a mini training camp that will reunite him with coach Amelie Mauresmo.
A good start to keeping him on board would be to secure the services of Leon smith, whose contract is up at the end of this year and needs to be renewed. But it is a strange state of affairs that he would have to answer to Keen, who admits he is no tennis expert.
Britain could actually come to muster a decent Davis Cup team even without Murray on occasions. The LTA are optimistic that world No 45 Aljaz Bedene ( left) can win his appeal to play in the competition next year, and he would be a significant addition.
Crucially, he plays well on clay, as does Kyle Edmund, who ought to cement himself inside the world’s top 100 next year and will go higher. James Ward has had a difficult year but is a proven Davis Cup performer, while the gifted Dan Evans is starting to look like he may wish to fulfil his considerable potential.
The Davis Cup, while not a flawless competition, showed in Ghent why it produces sporting drama of the highest order.
having a strong GB team is a goal that should unite everyone.
MIKE DICKSON Tennis Correspondent reports from Ghent