Glory can’t hide fail­ure at the top

Daily Mail - - Davis Cup – The Aftermath - @Mike_Dick­son_DM

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

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