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Annacone exit the end of an era

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Jonathan Overend | 21:16 UK time, Wednesday, 26 May 2010

When Paul Annacone leaves the Lawn Tennis Association in November it will end the culture of big-name, big-money coaches in British tennis. The era of excess will be over and expenditure on the balance sheet will look a little less top heavy.

In 2006, the new LTA regime fell in love with the concept of spending riches on celebrity coaches. A big-spend for quick wins.

A holy trinity of Annacone, Brad Gilbert and Peter Lundgren was hired on a combined salary of more than £1m per year.

Gilbert would coach Andy Murray, Lundgren would coach the Davis Cup team and Annacone would be men's head coach. By the end of the year, all three will be gone.

Lundgren, the former coach of Roger Federer, was first to depart after a troublesome time over the summer of 2007.

Gilbert, hired to coach Andy Murray, finally left in September 2008 - nine months after his relationship with Murray ended. He was reportedly the world's highest paid coach and British tennis was footing the bill.

Annacone was on a much more sensible salary but still a huge whack for a part-time contract which didn't require him to move from the family home in California.

It's unclear whether he would have been offered a new deal but he isn't waiting to find out. He's given six months notice and the news comes as no great surprise.

His contribution was last night recognised by the LTA in a glowing statement, and undoubtedly some coaches and players have benefitted from his ideas and experience, but average rankings have not improved and no player he worked with broke into the top 100. After everything he achieved with Pete Sampras, his LTA spell hardly sits well on the CV.

Paul Annacone_blog_getty.jpg Annacone (l) and John Lloyd (r) at the Davis Cup tie in Lithuania. Photo: Getty.

The LTA tennis leadership team, recruited four years ago to work under chief executive Roger Draper, has now been thoroughly dismantled.

An "extensive worldwide search" was promised at the time and it was a costly business. A leading recruitment agency did the worldwide headhunting (one successful candidate was in Wimbledon, another in Chiswick) and salaries were negotiated individually.

Bill Mountford was appointed head of coaches and competitions. The American was the first out of the door after just over a year. Paul Hutchins was head of men's tennis. He was asked to moved to a more minor role after Wimbledon 2008. Carl Maes was the head of women's tennis. He left for personal reasons in April 2009.

Ann Quinn was the head of sports science. Her contract expired last year but only after spending many months in her native Australia, apparently because of visa problems.

Kevan Taylor, the finance director, and Mountford's successor Gary Stewart were others to leave last year for "personal reasons" while John Lloyd, the Davis Cup captain, "resigned" last month after the Lithuania debacle.

The LTA points out that any big business has a high staff turnover and the money spent paying up contracts is a relatively small amount, but it's still hundreds of thousands of pounds, perhaps more. The sort of money which - if redistributed - could have helped persuade Slough Council to keep their Indoor Tennis Centre open.

The pay-and-play facility closed recently to become a bowling alley. Annacone, it should be noted, is seeing out his contract so there remains plenty of time to get value from the likeable American. But the idea of expensive celebrity coaches hasn't worked.

The appointment of inexperienced Leon Smith as head of men's tennis and Davis Cup captain emphasises the change of tack.

Jose Mourinho couldn't take Burnham Ramblers into the Premier League, so why did British tennis think superstar coaches would create a nation of world beaters?


  • Comment number 1.

    I think Jonathon, the saying is "You can't polish a turd"!

    WHy the LTA believed that big money big name coaches would suddenly mean we churn out world beaters from a group that collectively had never won more than a smattering of ATP Tour level matches is beyond me.

    This decision making illustrates how far out of his depth Draper is. And he's not exactly made any inroads into grass-roots has he, as illustrated by Tony Hawks!!!

    Disgraceful debacle.

  • Comment number 2.

    William Hill have just offered 40-1 that Jose Mourinho takes Burnham Ramblers to the Premier League by 2020. I put fifty pence on.

    Mr. Overend as ever writes eloquently on the miasma of despair that hangs over British tennis, but I feel that the current crop of players were never good enough or even, arguably, hungry enough to become top-50 singles players. Mr. Bogdanovic is a well-documented case in point, with funding metaphorically thrown at him and "celebrity" coaches reeled off in his direction; the money would surely have been better spent on grass-roots facilities.

    My question to the ever engaging Mr. Overend is thus: if he were in charge at the LTA what policies would he pursue and why?

  • Comment number 3.

    Everybody, apart from the people in charge of British tennis, knows that what separates the best coaches from the very good coaches is not technical knowledge, but an ability to get players into the right mental approach and in tactical analysis of other players.

    Players at the top of the game (e.g. Sampras) need very little technical input, but what they need is a motivator to get them in the 'zone' (look at the work Norman has done with Soderling) and a tactician to 'work out' their opponent. This makes all the difference when you consider the minuscule factors that separate the top players.

    Murray aside, however, we are missing players anywhere near this level. We need coaches to analyse technical flaws and inefficiencies in our players games. Our players don't have the technical ability to beat the best in the world, no matter their mental approach and tactics. And its possible to get brilliant technical coaches at much lower prices because the top players don't need/want one. Federer doesn't even have a permanent coach!

    We need to focus on the next generation of players, whilst trying to help with the basic issues with the current crop. A sound technical base can be built upon and without it no 'wonder coach' can help!

  • Comment number 4.

    I agree, Jonathan, that it is a good thing that the era of big name and highly paid foreign coaches has come to an end. Particularly if some of them have not even been based full-time in this country. Having said this, I am sure there is a lot our best coaches can learn from coaches in other countries, so it is important that we do not become too insular.
    As I think most of us know, the most pressing problems are at the grass roots. Schools, parks, clubs, ratings, tournaments, I suspect many of these important parts of the UK tennis world are not working that well in different parts of the country, though there will be some pockets of excellence. In particular I suspect the link between clubs and schools in parts of the UK is nowhere near as good as it could be, and if we don't get talented ones feeding into clubs, then the future is bleak. And we still have the problem of the cost of becoming a tennis player. We may offer some grants to help, but if group coaching costs c£6 per hour, and individual something over £20, plus travel to and from the club, tournaments etc. then the costs quickly get prohibitive for all but the richest parents. So their talented young one goes to play football or rugby or cricket etc. which work out a lot cheaper for them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Seeing as I don't actually live in Britain, can someone tell me how many tennis grassroots facilities are actually available? If there's a young kid with quick reflexes, lotsa guts, and superb hand-eye coordination, what are the chances that s/he'll get his hands on a tennis racket, find a court at school or nearby to play on, people to play with, and authorities to notice her/him?

    I think it would be a mistake for the LTA to stop bringing in foreign experts entirely. However, they should be from countries like France and Spain, from where top players turn up with depressing regularity. Perhaps also send more British teens to tennis academies in Spain and other European countries to train and play with their youngsters.

    And if that doesn't work, just offer British citizenship to every young spark that comes out of Russia and Serbia.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think the answer to your question is that the chances are slim that the talented kid will get his or her hands on a tennis racket, find a court at school or in a park, have people to play with, and get noticed. If his parents are already tennis enthusiasts who are members of a club, and are also rich enough to support the costs of his tennis training, then it can happen. If the kid comes from a regular family which is not that well off, then I suggest the talent will slip through the net. Wayne Rooney would probably never had had the chance, had it been tennis and not football he was interested in.

  • Comment number 7.

    i wonder if the LTA is taking a cue from George Osborne and his austerity drive

  • Comment number 8.

    Its pretty clear that the level of adult talent in the UK is not what other countries have at their dispense...

    Therefore they should stop thinking about now and bring in top technical coaches to train those between 16 - 21... They are the future of the sport and by developing that age group means in a few years potentially we could have 3 or 4 players in the top 100 in both men and womens tennis.

    Olympic sports such as rowing have carried out initiatives (World Class Start) like this on a much smaller budget than I expect what the LTA has at its disposal and many of those athletes are now rowing for GB at a senior level.

  • Comment number 9.

    Agreed with pretty much everything noted above and by Jonathan.

    The focus should not be on one or two "potentially" good players who are hitting the circuit. It should be on the opportunities that kids have in the 5~10year old bracket.

    Kids of 5~10years old, have immediate access to football, rugby, netball, hoockey etc. The 'facilities' are already in place at school. Set a minium number of tennis courts that are available between local councils, in a school district. So, if say 5 schools, have a minium of 5 courts. A single court does not take up much space. Those that have space for more, make it so.

    So this is also a 'political' choice to be made. Since without Gov.t intervention to push through these 'typical' minium requirements, all the available playing space shall be the usual suspects. Hence no grass roots to even bring'll be the same old dry dirt, no grass!

    Make tennis available to all, at school, from the outset...this is where the money (and possibly Lottery funds) should go. Over time , this has the beginnings of building a foundation. It ain't no quick fix....but future prospects are significantly increased

  • Comment number 10.

    On the up side, and I don't think this is mentioned enough, the womens side has come on leap and bounds.

    Having said that, I agree with much of the above.

  • Comment number 11.

    Jose Mourinho couldn't take Burnham Ramblers into the Premier League, so why did British tennis think superstar coaches would create a nation of world beaters?
    He probably could actually, after all a big name can attract players of a far higher calibre, see the progress of AFC Wimbledon as proof of that.

    A fairer comparison would be asking Mourinho to take a small nation with few top class players (as I'm Welsh I can say like Wales) to the latter stages of a world cup.

  • Comment number 12.

    Surely the LTA should be asking Judy Murray how she would run things?

    As I understand it, she saw what the LTA had done to her elder son Jamie (i.e. turned a promising singles player into someone who could just play doubles), and determined they would not do the same with her younger son Andy, so she took him to Spain where he trained alongside a young Nadal. Given the amount of success achieved by doing this, surely she should be handed the keys to the LTA?

  • Comment number 13.

    One of the major problems with British Tennis players is the same as the problem with a lot of British sport, life is too easy here. Juniors from "less privileged" countries competing around the world have a real hunger to win. Sometimes that hunger is actual, because if they don't win a match they don't have enough in their budget to eat!! Motivation, grit and determination to succeed is what's lacking here as for us it's a recreational sport and for others it's their life. The only way to get to the top is through dedication and sacrifice. Look at Andy Murray, he has dedicated his life to get there and has the personal drive to do so.


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