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Davis Cup ghosts haunt Roland Garros

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Jonathan Overend | 17:47 UK time, Saturday, 29 May 2010

Familiar names, old foes.

It's always interesting to amble around the outside courts at Grand Slam tournaments to spot players we've come across in recent years on Davis Cup duty.

Following Great Britain in the lower reaches of the competition allows us to talk to these lower-ranked players, hear their stories and dreams for the future. They can often provide more articulate interviews than some of our own team members.

Step forward Michal Przysiezny of Poland who played in Liverpool last September and beat Dan Evans in the decisive Davis Cup rubber.

At the time he was 678 in the world rankings and, although we knew then that this was misleading, his ascent to the top 100 in under a year has been an extraordinary achievement.

Aged 26, Przysiezny has worked his way up to 94 in the world, a career high. He won three Futures and a Challenger after his appearance in Liverpool and this season has won two more Challengers.

Here in Paris he lost in the first round to Mikhail Youzhny but at least he made the main draw thanks to his ranking.

Alexandr Dolgopolov played Andy Murray in the second rubber of the Ukraine v GB match in 2006. He was 17 at the time and ranked outside the top 300.

Here at the French Open, with a ranking of 56, he recorded back-to-back wins over Arnaud Clement and Fernando Gonzalez before going out on Saturday to Nicolas Almagro, 6-3 6-3 6-4. No disgrace.

Dolgopolov is one of three Ukraine players to have broken into the top 100 since that tie in Odessa. Sergiy Stakhovsky stands at 63 in the world and Illya Marchenko is 80.

"We have all done well," Dolgopolov told me. "We all train separately in different areas so it's not about the federation or anything like that. We have a lot of players now so it's good for Ukraine."

What does he think about Ukraine soaring clear of Great Britain in terms of men's tennis?

"It is a surprise because they have the facilities and the funding and the Grand Slam tournament. I don't know what is happening with their juniors but it is a surprise."

As for the Lithuanians, who famously beat Britain in March, both Rikardis Berankis and Laurynas Grigelis are currently at career-high rankings. They didn't make the French but both are both on the rise, with Grigelis improving his ranking by almost 100 places in three months.

Career-high rankings are very much in the past for the leading British players at the moment.

Take a look at the list below. These are the active players, other than Murray, who have played Davis Cup for Britain in the past three years

Alex Bogdanovic: Current ranking: 160. Career-high ranking: 108.
Jamie Baker: 257, 211.
Josh Goodall: 306, 184.
Dan Evans: 337, 248.
James Ward: 360, 187.
Chris Eaton: 468, 317.

All of them have at least 20 tournaments counting towards their ranking so it's not as if injury can be blamed. All of them have received financial backing from the LTA, some considerably more than others.

Dolgopolov admits the Ukraine success is nothing to do with the federation. He happens to be the son of a former player and coach, that's why he plays tennis, and his father's attention is why he's climbing the world ladder.

He'll be at Wimbledon in a few weeks and so will Mr Przysiezny the Pole. They have earned their places with results across the year.

Any Brits will be in on the usual freebie wildcard which, in truth, only Baker realistically deserves.


  • Comment number 1.

    A nice thinly-veiled dig at the British players and their relationship with the press. Murray's interview after his win over Baghdatis in particular was appalling, surely he understands that he get paid because of people being interested in him and his achievements? He'll have a lot less fans if he carries on like that.

    In terms of British tennis - maybe the kids just aren't hungry enough like players from places like Ukraine and Poland. And those that are athletic enough find other sports first such as football. Getting kids playing tennis has to be the key, and the closing of tennis centres like in Slough will only make things worse. Difficult they may be to maintain but free Tennis Courts in parks are a fantastic way of doing this. My only tennis experience as a kid was playing on the free courts in my local park with my dad and when it became run down I didn't pick up a racket again until I was too old to have a chance (although I don't think Britain have missed out on the next Fred Perry with me though!)

    But lets not get too down - We have a top 4 male tennis player from this small Island! How many countries can say that? Not the U.S.A for sure

  • Comment number 2.

    No excuse why are players can't do what everyone else does. I guess it's all about hunger and desire

  • Comment number 3.

    A sobering but all too familiar story, Jonathan. Perhaps after the French, you could talk to these foreign players again and dig a little deeper into their education, personalities, backgrounds etc, to see what they're doing right and where our boys are going wrong.

    Is it down to training regimes, that famous Eastern European 'hunger' for success, tennis 'hot-housing' as juniors (as opposed to the British middle-class obsession with making sure every child has mastered three languages, the complete works of Shakespeare and concert standard Oboe before they're allowed to 'run along and play ball-games')?
    Is it down to psychology, having a 'win Win WIN' attitude, rather than "It's the taking part that matters...."?
    Or is it something as obscure as diet? A friend of mine attended a British junior tournament last year and was horrified to see most of the competitors stuffing their faces with junk food, crisps and cheap sweets between matches.

    I look forward to a more in-depth follow-up article.

  • Comment number 4.

    the truth is that britain is a lazy state,sitting infront of the tv and laughing at people trying to make it,it is not desire or hungar it is pure and simply laziness that britain has developed from other english and proud but that is the reason.all the things are handed it to them on a plate without any work to earn it,they feel they are entitled to it because they are british

  • Comment number 5.

    Comparing Britain with Eastern European will not solve the problem. the only reason JO can relate to them is because GB is at their level, or just below (having lost to them in recent DC). We must stop saying we aren't successful at tennis because it's a middle class sport. The top place as taken by countries the like of Spain, France, US, Germany or Switzerland. Are you saying that Roger Federer, Nadal or even Gasquet or Meltzer took on tennis to get out of poverty? The problem is somewhere else.

  • Comment number 6.

    Well the women do better than the men, so perhaps their coaching setup is better than the men's!

    I'm intrigued by your statement that only Baker really deserves his wild card, when there is another player ranked above him, and by some way as well. Are we talking personalities here by any chance? Maybe Bogdanovic's personality clashed with the old coaching regime, which seems to be being dismantled. Maybe the old coaching regime is to blame for the men's parlous state at the moment. Whatever, I note that Andy Murray was removed by his mother from the LTA's coaching set up because of what they'd done to his older brother. Should she be given the role of men's coaching supremo? Results would say so!

  • Comment number 7.

    An enjoyable blog providing interesting news on the current state of some Davis Cup players and the contrasting directions they have been taking. It is critical to keep watch on the progression of the British tennis players considering all the money that has been pouring into the British game. It is disappointing to find that it is still in a malaise and if anything is heading in the wrong direction at the present time with the Men.

  • Comment number 8.

    How does a 26 year old player ranked 678 rise into the top 100?
    maybe it is because of clay, and living and playing on a continent with lots of players.
    Andy murray would not be a great player if he had not spent 4 years in Valencia. It is because he practised with so many good player ON clay that he is so good.
    Sure it is not his best surface (I actually think he could be a great player on clay if he used his wonderful looped shots more often, and after 10 to 20 shots in a rally, moving in to bang awaythe short ball it eventually creates). Federer learnt his lovely groundshots and returns on clay, which ahve benefitted him on grass and cement.
    I suggest that the LTA National Tennis Centre be closed and moved to share the facilities in Valencia or Barcelona, and any promising junior aged 14 and over be immediately sent there and basically be told they will lose all funding if they spend more than 4 weeks per year outside of the tournament periods in the UK.

  • Comment number 9.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 10.

    A good and perceptive article, Jonathan.
    The LTA could do a lot worse than go and talk in some depth to Przysiezny,Dolgopolov and the two Lithuanians, and see how these guys are going about it and getting the results, whereas our young male players are not doing as well, in spite of superior training facilities. Yes, the answer may be more hunger, better diet, better coaching or simply more raw talent, but it would be really enlightening to know, and it is really important that the LTA knows too, to learn the lessons.
    My general comment is that I would have expected the likes of Goodall, Evans, Ward and Eaton to have pushed on more by now, and it is disappointing that they haven't. I believe Baker has been injured recently, so I excuse him a bit, but equally he needs to push on now. It seems to be a recurring pattern that our male players stall in the rankings in the hundreds, when some of them should be making big strides and reaching the top 100. One can't help but feeling that something in the LTA system or in the coaching they receive, or in their attitude and dedication or in their approaches to training/matches is going very wrong!

  • Comment number 11.

    I think blaming the lack o desire in the middle class 'tennis playing' society is not totally correct. I think it is all about talent. No matter how much coaching is given, a poor international player is still going to be a poor player.

    The middle classes in the UK certainly seem to be producing enough golfers, with 4 in the world top 10 after today. I know it is a different sport but their are parallels. Hinger or disire do not seem to be a problem in that sport.

    Tennis needs to get more kids playing therefore creating a bigger talent pool.

  • Comment number 12.

    Yawn, more rubbish about hunger and desire.

    The truth is that the vast majority of kids with hunger, desire and sporting ability in the UK go on to get involved with football, rugby, cricket, boxing or athletics (we have a number of top sportsmen in all those events) in preference to tennis, always have done and always will. Others with the same hunger and desire but perhaps different physical attributes go on to reach the top in golf, snooker, darts or non sporting pursuits entirely such as the sciences, engineering and business.

    We do ALL of these things well, producing leading lights in all of them. Yet we harp on about an eastern European country having more tennis players than us? Well, they have fewer options too.

  • Comment number 13.

    My son plays tennis at junior level and is one of the top in his age group. He is desperate to be a professional tennis player and wants to play every day, all day! He can not get enough people of a good enough standard, that want to stand on a court for 3-4 hours at a time, to play with him. We, as parents, need both massive amounts of money and time to help our child. The small amount of funding provided by the LTA for players of our level is completely inadequate. He has been at a tennis academy but has been asked to leave because he is too challenging for the coaches who can't understand him and don't have the time, experience or patience to deal with difficult behaviour. All top sportsmen are have an attitude of arrogance and superiority but this is not accepted by coaches in this country who just want to 'squash' any individuality and talent. My son will not make it through the British system and we don't have the financial backing. He may end up playing a different sport? I would not advise any parent to allow their child to play tennis and wish we had never started.


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