BBC BLOGS - Jonathan Overend
« Previous | Main | Next »

No more excuses for GB

Post categories:

Jonathan Overend | 14:39 UK time, Thursday, 4 March 2010

The expression "into the unknown" is overused in sport, sometimes to prepare us for a fall, sometimes to disguise poor preparation.

Here in snowbound Vilnius, the British Davis Cup squad arrived via a budget airline and a rickety yellow bus for their Euro/Africa Group II match with Lithuania.

This may be the tennis wilderness but it is not "the unknown". There should be few surprises this weekend and, therefore, there can be no excuses.

The preparation has been done, the Lithuanians have been watched (there are only three with world rankings) and the court is fast-indoor hard, one of 15 housed within an established tennis academy on the industrial outskirts of the city.

The centre - named after the American of Lithuanian parentage Vitas Gerulaitis - is an excellent facility, with 1000 junior players using its courts regularly, although the ceiling is very low and the lighting is half the power required at World Group level.

James Ward and Dan Evans, the two nominated singles players, know they are fighting for an international future alongside Andy Murray, who is skipping this tie but hopefully returns next year.

Colin Fleming, Ken Skupski, John Lloyd, James Ward and Daniel Evans
Great Britain are hoping to avoid an unprecedented fifth straight Davis Cup defeat

And as for captain John Lloyd, a lover of blunt talk, he surely has to win to keep his job.

Before we go further, the all-important, all-confusing background for you.

This match is a first-round tie in the zonal second division, a horrible Vauxhall Conference of a level, to which Britain sank in September when they lost to Poland in Liverpool.

A win for Britain would take them into round two against the winners of Ireland v Turkey, with the winners of that getting a promotion play-off chance in September.

Defeat would mean an automatic relegation play-off the weekend after Wimbledon, against the losers of Ireland v Turkey, with another loss there sending the team down to Euro/Africa Group III (and now try explaining that to a friend who only has a passing interest in tennis and feed back to the ITF, who resolutely believe their competition is as simple to follow as pass the parcel).

This is a level which is realistic for Britain in its current state, everyone said as much in September. It gives the players beneath Murray a credible opportunity to sample the winning feeling in a competition which has made others freeze.

Evans gets a chance to prove that his disappointing debut in Liverpool was down to stage fright.

Although he was named in the initial team, he may have given way to Jamie Baker as number two player because the Scotsman was in excellent form in practice before turning an ankle on Wednesday.

Baker was "in contention", according to John Lloyd, a diplomatic way of saying "first name on the team sheet". Baker flew home on Thursday, inconsolable.

Evans must seize his chance, step up and look ready for battle when he strides onto court. His talent must not be allowed to go to waste.

James Ward, now coached by Greg Rusedski, missed the last match with a virus. He may be ranked at 250 in the world but has made steady progress and, like Bogdanovic, Goodall and Eaton in recent ties, deserves a shot.

Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski, "Flemski" to their friends, will bring their successful ATP tour partnership to the Davis Cup stage for the first time. They have risen to the brink of the world's top 50 and should start strong favourites for Saturday's doubles rubber.

On the bench, John Lloyd has to play his part, marshalling and motivating. When Murray sits next to him, Lloyd is nothing more than water-carrier and banana-peeler. With this team of youth and inexperience, he has to earn his corn.

He wisely covered his back when he drew up his 15-week-a-year contract with the LTA in 2006. It would cost a small fortune in compensation to get rid of him now but a run of five successive defeats has never been endured by a Great Britain captain in 110 years.

No amount of stalling with promises of five-to-seven-to-ten-year plans will cover up the humiliation of possible relegation to the fourth division of world tennis. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

The only "unknown" should be the attempts of the British journalists, all four of us, to navigate the Vilnius nightlife without encountering that embarrasing reminder of home - the Brits' stag do abroad.

Even that misfortune is preferable to another GB post-match post-mortem.


  • Comment number 1.

    Jonathan, any idea how much this small fortune would be in regards to terminating Lloyd's services? It seems to be the whole situation with Brad Gilbert over again, the LTA just don't learn their lesson.

    I certianly think Wardy deserves a shot here, but I am concerned that he didn't progress as much in the 2nd half of 09 as he did at the start of the year. In fact of his total 180 rankings points he must defend 125 of them between now and Wimbledon. It will also be interesting to see (or not unless there is a internet stream I guess) how his game holds up on a fast indoor surface, certainly I think in the past his stand out results have been on slow surfaces.

    I also feel that, despite his loses in the past, Lloyd should have given further consideration to Bogdanovic for thsi tie. He is a long way ahead of the other current contenders (ranked 151 today compared to Ward's 250) and the majority of his loses have been at World Group or World Group Play Off level, quite a step above where we currently find ourselves.

  • Comment number 2.

    i think it says enough about british tennis thta this was posted at 14:39 and the second comment is 3 hours later!
    pretty much agree with the above though, although not conviced about bogo. also i rekon its great to see a doubles pair picked to play together.

    Jonathan do you have any thoughts on why the lta finally seem to be doing and ok job with the ladies (vastly improved on the last 5-10 years) but no real impact in the mens?

  • Comment number 3.

    Too late to start harping on about Boggo, he, at this level, should be making bread and butter of the opposition, but his past record doesn't sit too well with Lloyd, regardless of his more than capable ability at this kind of level.

    Even Greg Rusedski could have played or even be playing if Lloyd had accepted his offer (he might even end up a player/Captain if Lloyd "retires"), but to be honest, our young guns need this experience, they have to find some kind of form, without Murray as their backup, to win these types of tournaments.

    Are they underdogs ?, some say yes, I say no, I think they have enough between them to win this, but relegation playoffs against Ireland ???? how did we ever sink this low.

  • Comment number 4.

    Surely for the future we should just rely on Murray winning his two rubbers and Flemski in the doubles, with two others playing the singles for experience?

  • Comment number 5.

    " On the bench, John Lloyd has to play his part, marshalling and motivating."

    That'll be the day - he's like an undertaker reviewing corpses.

    What's his fat cat salary for this 15 weeks? - open ended like all the other snouts in the LTA trough ?

  • Comment number 6.

    JO - as principle showers of DC - any idea why the BEEB haven;t lashed out the 15 quid for a live link ?

  • Comment number 7.

    I've had a word and have the official line on why this tie is not being covered on BBC TV. "We do not have a contractual obligation to cover GB ties in the Euro/Africa zone Group II, which is the status of the Lithuania tie," says BBC tennis executive producer Paul Davies. "We decided that the profile and status of this fixture did not represent good value for money in terms of doing live coverage."

  • Comment number 8.

    I agree with Paul. Great Britain are playing against Lithuania in some humiliating tie. If they lose I don't particularly want to watch that carnage either.

  • Comment number 9.

    I'm liking the player-coach idea! Maybe John Lloyd himself should get out his racket and show his players how it is done!

    The sad fact is, looking at the World Rankings of our players, this is the level that our players belong at, Murray aside. This tie could go either way, which means that there could be worse to come. We haven't really seen how good a coach Lloyd is yet, given that most of the results were virtually pre-determined by the gulf in class between players in most games. Now we will see if Lloyd really is the right man for the job. Can he inspire our players?

  • Comment number 10.

    "We do not have a contractual obligation to cover GB ties in the Euro/Africa zone Group II, which is the status of the Lithuania tie," says BBC tennis executive producer Paul Davies. "We decided that the profile and status of this fixture did not represent good value for money in terms of doing live coverage."
    Bet you would if Murray was playing ;)

  • Comment number 11.

    I'm not a big tennis fan but how can we have fallen so far so quickly in the world of tennis. I know we haven't really had a group of players to do very well at the same time.

    With all the money that Wimbledon makes I was just wondering if large indoor 15 court tennis arena like the Lithuanians have or maybe two or three of them around the country? If not then why not!!

    It doesn't surprise me that John Lloyd is on a big fat salary for 15 weeks a year as the people that run the LTA seem to be just as incompetent as the people running the FA when handing out big salaries for people who fail. Surely at some stage someone will look at these things and demand a performance related pay or put him on a full salary and make him teach and train up and coming players and or coaches.

    Hopefully we will come through this but surely we have to change the way we think and applaud winners and make sure it is the winning that counts and not the taking part.

  • Comment number 12.

    Without Murray, Britain wouldn't have that easy a time even against Ireland in the promotion/relegation play-off. Remember Louk Sorensen, who successfully qualified for the Australian Open, and beat Yen-Hsun Lu (then ranked #101 and who had been to the third round the year before) fairly easily in the first round. He even put up a creditable performance against John Isner (3-6 6-7 5-7).

    Sorensen's ranking is currently #226, but if he can maintain the sort of form he showed in Australia, I can't see any of the British men other than Murray beating him. Then Ireland would only need one more win to seal the tie. It'll be a close-run thing.

    Turkey have Marcel Ilhan, who at #121 is well ahead of Ward, Evans, or Baker. And 30 places ahead of Bogdanovic. So that wouldn't be easy either.

    The simple fact is that, even in the third flight of the competition, the British team just isn't that good without Murray.

    I agree that Rusedski (or Henman) might well do better than Ward et al. Even a couple of years into retirement, they should be able to compete with players ranked outside the top 200.

  • Comment number 13.

    @12, Ireland currently 3-0 (all in straight sets) in their tie, without the services of Sorensen who pulled out late on Thursday with a hamstring injury.

    Match 1
    James McGee def. H.AKKOYUN (TUR)
    6-2 6-2 6-4

    Match 2
    Conor Niland def. M.ILHAN (TUR)
    6-3 6-2 6-1

    Match 3
    Barry King / James McGee def. H.AKKOYUN / M.ILHAN (TUR)
    6-3 6-1 6-3

  • Comment number 14.

    Currently watching the final rubber on the live streaming. It seems to me that on this fast surface Evans should be getting into the net at every opportunity. He can't continue rallying with his slice backhand, unless he keeps it much deeper. Seems very strange that Evans is even playing. To be frank he just doesn't look good enough. Far too passive, he needs to press much more. Of course, as Jonathan mentioned, Lloyd must resign if the tie is lost.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well that result could have been predicted. Even the finish; he holds 3 break points but then loses the next 5 and the match, although I couldn't really follow the play by that stage as the stream had broken up. Sorry GB, just not good enough. Keep the doubles specialists, but find another singles player.

  • Comment number 16.

    Are heads going to roll at the LTA ? JL needs to be shown the door - that's a given - but how far up the chain of command at the lavish LTA HQ should P45's be dished out ? Are we likely to see more of defense/explanation of this loss than we saw in Liverpool ?

  • Comment number 17.

    Who would we pick though anon_reg? At least James Ward became the first player, aside from Murray, Tim and Greg in 13 years to win a live singles rubber. Dan Evans also played promisingly in both matches (though his loss to Grigelis was terrible in terms of ranking, maybe the rankings are deceptive because Grigelis is only 18 and only recently graduated from the juniors). Apart from the possibility of bringing ol' Bogbrush back (which I'm not sure I favour), I don't think there are any other British players that I'd favour. Give them another chance, I say, they may be pants, but they're the best we've got.

    I still don't think that Lloyd should get the sack; he can't win if the players can't. It's a simple as that. This was a far worse loss however.

    Surely, we should beat Turkey though, the singles players should both beat Akkoyun, who is almost 30 and has a singles ranking of over 1000, and I can't see us losing the doubles either. 3-2 win assuming all goes to seeds. And even should we be shocked again, we should definitely beat the likes of San Marino and Andorra next year!

  • Comment number 18.

    The BBC shipping forecast is beginning to resemble names that may appear in GB's next Davis Cup group! Please can the LTA address the real issues at grass roots level. They are operating an inverse pyramid with most of the funds being misdirected at the top end. One third of the Wimbledon surplus is frittered away in administration, of which a substantial portion is to a handful of overpaid senior executives. The LTA need to feed the money back to clubs and public facilities. It is a numbers game, but they continue to concentrate on elitism. When will they learn?!

  • Comment number 19.

    I detect some like Isode and Maxwell are on the samw wavelength as I am. We all consider that the LTA upper strata has gone past its sell by date and great changes are needed, otherwise it will be the same old attitudes and offerings thus creating the same old results.
    Cut the losses now, change all the staff and start from scratch.
    I fear our tennis is heading for just Club level ability. You may all remember the saying in the 1940`s by the great American player Budge Patty....he believed cricket was our national identity and attitude since Britons think only " well played old man" irrespective of whether you won or lost. In other words you feel successful just because you took part. the Americans consider 2nd place as failure. Anon.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.