Does GB's Davis Cup debacle matter?
Great Britain play Turkey in the Davis Cup this weekend and a loss will see them drop into something called Europe/Africa Zone Group III - for the uninitiated, that's tennis' equivalent of Hades, except with angry journalists instead of three-headed dogs. And all posing that age-old question: "Why aren't we any good at tennis?"
So to freshen things up a bit, and in an attempt to add some perspective to the debate, allow me to pose a different question: does it actually matter that Britain isn't any good at tennis? And how many in Britain actually care?
There are plenty of sports Britons are pretty handy at at the moment - cycling, rowing, golf, boxing and cricket to name a few. Then there are the sports we're not so good at, at the moment, but given our tradition probably should be, football and rugby union chief among them.
Then there's tennis, which we're not much cop at and never really have been, unless you count the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.
A popular misconception is that Fred Perry was part of a golden age of British tennis but a quick glance at the records reveals this isn't true: before Perry in 1934, Britain's last men's singles champion at Wimbledon was Arthur Gore in 1909. Britain hasn't had a Grand Slam winner on the men's side since Perry's victory at the US Open in 1936, and while Britain's women held their end up for longer, the last Grand Slam winner was Virginia Wade, who triumphed at Wimbledon in 1977. As Wade once put it, "maybe we were just anomalies".
Some Wimbledon traditions go back to the 19th Century, but might not be to everyone's taste
Given such a modest return, is it not time to shrug our shoulders and simply admit we're not greatly enamoured with the sport? After all, do the Italians gnash their teeth and wail every time the Open Championship swings round, asking why they've got no-one challenging again? And what about the Spanish when it comes to rugby league? Or the Americans when it comes to cricket?
It is a peculiar trait among the British - more correctly the English - to think they should be good at absolutely everything. And while there is some justification for the inquests that follow every England exit at a major football tournament, given the central role of football in the English culture, there is little justification for the finger-wagging and recriminations that follow the latest "embarrassing" Davis Cup defeat or "shameful" showing at Wimbledon.
Lawn Tennis Association chief Roger Draper, so often the target of the finger-wagging, recently said that "it's not all about who wins Wimbledon", pointing out that half a million adults play tennis weekly. I reckon half a million British adults can bash out Chopsticks on the piano, but Britain is very far from being a nation of world-class pianists.
A more telling statistic is that 19% of tennis participants in Britain regularly receive tuition or take part in competition, compared to 42% and 47% in golf, which has almost twice as many participants in the first place. This suggests that while tennis remains very much a leisure pursuit in Britain, golf is a sport Brits are keen to master.
One result of this disparity is that while Britain has one man - Andy Murray - in the top 100 of the world tennis rankings, there are five British men in golf's top 10. This despite the fact that grass-roots golf receives far less money from the public coffers than tennis (golf will receive £12.8m from Sport England between 2009-2013 compared to tennis' £26m, plus the £30m it receives annually from Wimbledon).
And there is the circumstantial evidence as well. A friend of mine tells me putting his teenage son through the tennis system has almost bankrupted him. This suggests despite all the money swilling around, getting anywhere in tennis can be a slog, what with all the transport costs and club, coaching and tournament fees.
Hard stats, such as the fact there are 10,000 park courts in the UK compared to 33,000 five years ago, suggest it's even more difficult to get a foot on the ladder in the first place (the courts I used to play on as a kid are now a skate park, because, the woman at the council offices told me, "no-one was using them outside of Wimbledon"). Of the remaining courts, the LTA itself admitted a few years back that "the majority are under-utilised and in a state of disrepair".
In addition, while the LTA makes much of its renewed commitment to tennis in schools, claiming that 73% of schools now 'offer' the sport, there are those who question the quality of the coaching and the validity of the claim, given that many state schools don't even have functioning courts.
Then there's Wimbledon, which is often cited as a reason why Britain should be good at tennis, as if by holding the finest tournament in the world top-drawer players should automatically follow.
For many Britons, the All England Club is the very embodiment of tennis, what the sport is 'meant' to be: exclusive, expensive, wilfully old-fashioned and conservative; a feature of the 'summer season', of umpires dressed as the Great Gatsby, of strawberries at £2.50 a punnet and 20 quid for a jug of Pimms.
All this tradition is very nice but alien to large sections of British society, to whom Wimbledon is the only sniff they get of tennis each year. No doubt some people reading this will be shuddering at the thought of Wimbledon being opened up to the masses, but look where exclusivity has got us - looking over the precipice into the murky depths of Europe/Africa Zone Group III.
Which takes me back to my original point - if all the LTA's millions have made no difference, if local councils and schools are unable or unwilling to provide strong foundations, if people aren't using the facilities that are there, if swaths of the public view the sport as exclusive, then surely this all adds up to a nation, on the whole, that isn't in love with the sport.
And if Britain is a country that isn't, as the evidence suggests, in love with tennis, then why does it matter that we aren't much good at it?
If it's British success you're after, there's plenty of it about at the moment, whether it be Mark Cavendish tearing up the Tour de France or one of our golfers blazing a trail in the Open at St Andrews next week. But you can't be good at everything.