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Does GB's Davis Cup debacle matter?

Ben Dirs | 20:48 UK time, Thursday, 8 July 2010

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".

straws595.jpgSome 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.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about at http://twitter.com/bendirs1

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Spot on blog Dirsy

    Given the size of our country we actually do remarkably well in World aport competing at the highest level in all the sports.

    How many other countries could realistically win the football, cricket, rugby union and rugby league world cups. Probably Australia with the exception of football come closest and they still have a pretty handy football team.

    Look at the culture of Australia, the climate (which is always a handy factor in outdoor sport..) and the space they have to develop training space and it's not that bleak a picture

    Why do we expect to win everything? The mere fact that we represent in pretty much every sport going is achievement enough and progress in that should be enough

    As for the skate parks, there are a few round by us but they should be re-named under drinking parks. The next generation is different, I was playing tennis last week on one of the few park courts in our area and was surrounded by over 30 under 18s drinking, swearing and fighting. It's a different world

    Everyone thinks golf costs a lot of money but to play high end tennis costs a lot more, so why are we surprised we are failing to produce more talent?

  • Comment number 2.

    Rob - Yeh, why do people think golf's still this exclusive game? I was reading a Jonathan Overened blog the other day and someone had written "there is no more exclusive sport than golf but we still produce plenty of great players", which would be news to anyone who plays in Essex, where you can get a fry-up on just about every course and every second car in the car park is a black cab. Plus, Nick Faldo used to be a carpet fitter, while Rory McIlroy's dad held down three jobs when McIlroy was growing up.

  • Comment number 3.

    Some good points there Ben...particularly with regard to park courts which are generally pathetic in this country.
    The LTA is obsessed with putting tennis into schools which is all very well, but if then the kids have nowhere to go afterwards, i.e park courts or affordable tennis clubs, then it will be pointless.
    I belong to a four court club in east london that survives entirely through the efforts of the members, and goodwill of people giving up their time to run coaching groupd for local, with absolutely no help from the LTA may I add. Sadly, I can name five similar clubs in my area that are now playgrounds or nursery schools or flats....
    I also have two kids who play, but it's extremely expensive to get them coaching....so you tend to fins the same kids doing well in tournaments, those whose parents turn up in Range Rovers! Nuff said..

  • Comment number 4.

    Some good points, however I think it does matter that we could be lurking in the depths of Europe/Africa zone group 3 considering the amount of money thrown at the sport.

    Considering the lack of success in British tennis (apart from Andy Murray) funding may well be better spent elsewhere.

  • Comment number 5.

    The news reporting of Tim Henman's last appearance in the Davis Cup (Sept 2007) was a joke. The doubles match wasn't mentioned on "Sportsday" until the studio presenters (one being Dan Walker) ploughed through the football.

    Two years on, while Andy Murray is doing damage to his wrist, the Davis Cup was deemed to be less important than "Football Focus" in the sports bulletin (8.30am on Sat); Dan Walker was allowed to plug said programme first.

    I watched the half-hour "Sportsday" on the Friday of the match with Lithuania, intrigued how BBC News would cover the first day's play with no pictures. It was a picture of Jonathan Overend with his report, preceded by The Official Reading Of The Sports Fixtures from Richard Askam and... Dan Walker again.

    And Dan Evans losing on Sunday got web coverage and no reporting; Overend was not heard at all.

    And seeing that the BBC News Channel didn't watch to mention the Davis Cup Final (Nadal beat Berdych 7-5 6-0 6-2 that day) because the World Cup Draw was on at the same time, why should anyone (in particular Andy Murray) bother?

  • Comment number 6.

    At last, someone sees the light! It's harsh to say that people only care about tennis for 2 weeks a year! It's probably 4 weeks if you include the French open finals, Queens and Wimbledon!

    Here's my slightly 'left field' theory... For tennis to grow we don't need more courts... we need more walls to hit up against! So many of the top players in the world started out as kids hitting a ball against a wall! The ball always comes back! Practising on your own creates good players. Golf can be practised on your own and that's why we as a country are so good (along with cycling)!

  • Comment number 7.

    Marcus - That's actually a very good point. Sport England make much of sports having to be successful in order to tap into the public money, yet tennis, which already receives £30m a year from Wimbledon, receives twice as much as golf. Would it not make more sense to give the £26m to sports like amateur boxing or judo or whatever, where it might actually make a difference?

  • Comment number 8.

    Rob (#1) mentioned that Britain is a small country, but that's only in size. We're apparently the 22nd most populous country in the world, which is in the top 10%.

    As to the original question, I want Britain to do well in the Davis Cup, but the fact we're not in the top group of countries for the Davis Cup is an accurate reflection of the fact we don't have a team of top players, so I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

    Can this change in the future is another discussion.

  • Comment number 9.

    The fact you are even writing an article asking if it does matter means that it does.

    I think the reason it matters more is because of the fact we host Wimbledon and have a huge amount of money swilling around in the LTA that seems to do nothing.

    If we did not have a Grand Slam tournament here or have the money then failure would be more acceptable. The fact that huge financial resources have existed for ages to bring through decent players means the question has to be asked. Why are we not producing talent?

  • Comment number 10.

    Pendle_witch that is exactly the reason "alternative" sports will never become as popular

    Open up any paper today and look at how many pages are dedicated to football as opposed to other sports

    The country doesn't care until we fail and then they slam us for not doing better. When we win it all goes quiet. How much coverage are the England cricket team getting now?

    Had they lost to Bangladesh yesterday it would have been all over the place. Surely a wine should be celebrated as much as a defeat is commiserated?

  • Comment number 11.

    Pendle_Witch - I think it's a Catch 22 situation regarding Davis Cup. My tennis editor tells me there were a few Davis Cup ties years ago, when Henman and Rusedski were playing, which were really rather raucous affairs, which shows that when we do have a half-decent team, the public are interested and the media will be there. But you can't blame the media for showing no interest when the British team is at such a low ebb. The harsh truth is, most of the British public probably don't even know what Davis Cup is, and that's not the fault of the media, but of British tennis.

    TheNobleOne - Very good point about being able to practice golf on your own. The fact is, you can go over the park with a bucket of balls and practice various aspects of your game, for free. I used to bunk on the putting green at my local municipal... actually, I used to bunk on and play entire rounds, but that's not something I'm proud of kids, and I can't stress that enough...

  • Comment number 12.

    unounos - "The fact you are even writing an article asking if it does matter means that it does". Not sure I agree - I wrote the article as a counterpoint to all the inevitable "why are we so bad at tennis" pieces that are sure to follow. I really don't think the majority of people in Britain care, despite what the media would have you believe. As for Wimbledon and the money, well that was kind of my point - if you keep throwing all this money around and it keeps falling on stony ground, then eventually you have to ask how many people actually care.

  • Comment number 13.

    "The harsh truth is, most of the British public probably don't even know what Davis Cup is"

    I'd agree with that. Mind you, most of the British public probably don't realize there are tournaments other than Wimbledon.

    It doesn't help to change this perception when Andrew Castle said during his Wimbledon commentary that the next time the tennis world reconvene would be the US Open. I assume he is aware of other tournaments?!

  • Comment number 14.

    I am ever somewhat bemused at the UK's ongoing preoccupation with having a tennis champion: football is our national sport, played by so many more, and yet we continue to fail far more spectacularly than we do in tennis.

    Let's revel in the glories we have and not become obsessed with achieving pinnacles we have rarely previously achieved throughout history (this applies to both football and cricket).

  • Comment number 15.

    Should we just give up Wimbledon then and let the Spanish have the grand slam?

  • Comment number 16.

    Ben, it's not that we are not very good at tennis, is that with the exception of, on average, one player per decade (Jones, Wade, Barker, Durie, Henman, Murray since 1960), we are ABSOLUTELY HOPELESS!
    Even allowing for all the stats you quote, surely we can do a little better? No-one thinks we should be the best in the world, but a bit of mid-table mediocrity would seem to be an appropriate return for the investments made into tennis - which, admittedly as you say, is more of a pastime in the UK than a competitive sport.
    PS Appreciate how you respond to those who comment on your articles- wish other BBC bloggers did the same
    PPS When are you and Fordyce goig to do a follow -up on your wonderful book? Most enjoyable read of the year.

  • Comment number 17.

    bendirs (#7) yes definitely we should be giving the money to amateur boxing / cycling, things that we excel at and have massive benefits. Perhaps if we take all the money away people might realise what Tennis means to us.

    I love playing tennis and its a shame that its so ignored, especially the lack of courts.

  • Comment number 18.

    Ben, this is actually a very interesting question. I think it was John Parsons who wrote 'There are millions of Wimbledon fans in Britain but very few tennis fans'. As someone who works with full-time players (outside of the LTA), this seems very true. I think the only reason we keep talking abut it is the large sums of money the LTA wastes each year, that causes huge frustration for people like me.

  • Comment number 19.

    So in this list of the most played sports in the world http://www.johann-sandra.com/popular.htm the top 8 (the ones with more than 50m participants the numbers drop of sharply after that) are Volleyball, Basketball, Table tennis, Football, Badminton, Tennis, Baseball and Dragon Boat Racing.

    Not surprisingly we suck at all of them (bar the odd anomalies you get in each sport). The fact that we still manage to get anywhere in football is quite amazing.

    So we either give up on Tennis or we have to try A LOT harder.

  • Comment number 20.

    7. At 10:57am on 09 Jul 2010, bendirs wrote:

    "...Sport England make much of sports having to be successful in order to tap into the public money, yet tennis, which already receives £30m a year from Wimbledon, receives twice as much as golf. Would it not make more sense to give the £26m to sports like amateur boxing or judo or whatever, where it might actually make a difference?"

    I see this as being the exact reason why people in this country expect to be good at tennis. Because we throw so much money at it, yet still produce no one of any actual ability!

    I feel this was perfectly emphasised in the last Davis Cup tie. Lithuania have just a tiny fraction of the tennis budget of us, yet still beat us.

    It's about time the money is taken out of British tennis and given to a sport that will benefit from it more, as it is quite clear the money pumped into tennis is just a waste, and frankly, very few people in this country even care about tennis compared to a number of other sports.

  • Comment number 21.

    The reason we're no good at tennis is it's too easy to make a decent living in the sport, without being especially good, if you're from the UK. It's the same with athletics - These are two sports with large amounts of money, but limited talent pools to pick from, so juniors get the big contracts too early and don't put in the hard work at the point they really need to, in their late teens. We accept mediocrity too easily. Remove some of the state funding from these sports and make it harder to make a living, unless you're going to be world class. Cycling and swimming are fantastic examples of sports where to make a living, you have to be world class. We have the talent, but too often not the motivation.

    People might accuse football of being too flush with cash, which of course it is, but it's only the top footballers who make a fortune. Your average footballer in the lower divisions, makes a decent living, but not great - and they've had to make sacrifices.

    Golf, as has been covered, is a sport where it's up to the individual and their family to get them through, not fat juicy contracts dropping into their laps at an early age.

    Whilst we continue to accept mediocrity, we'll continue to fail.

    Does it matter - yup - at a very basic level, national success in sport breeds excitement and joy. Can you imagine the delight if Murray had won?

    Anyway, that's my tuppence!

    Great blog as ever, Ben.

  • Comment number 22.

    Just as a matter of interest how does a country pick what it's national sport is?

    Is it through sheer numbers of participation or through success or through pure history?

    Does anyone know the Uk's participation numbers for golf, football, cycling, running? I would be quite interested to see what is the most participated in sport. I guess it would be fishing actually thinking about it

  • Comment number 23.

    Would it be possible to open new clubs on school property? Gives the kids facilities during school time and for everyone post 3:20pm. Just a quick thought

  • Comment number 24.

    Simply put, whilst tennis continue to be the preserves of the rich upper class, then the talented youngsters from poorer backgrounds have no chance. Tennis club membership reaches into the hundreds, sometimes thousands, for an annual membership whereas other sports are far more accessible. I can pop down to the golf range for £2. Go around a 9-holer for less than a tenner with no membership required.

    Tennis is too restricted to the toffs

  • Comment number 25.

    Firstly, if people think that Golf is elitist then they should try joining their local Tennis club!!! Tim Henman and to some extent Andy Murray do nothing to change the Upper Middle Class impression of the sport. I think Tennis needs a proper working class 'rags to riches' British champion to break down that perception...
    Secondly, if a young golfer shows talent they will be in a position where the course at which they play will almost always have a PGA Professional working there so the talent can be nurtured and has the right 'path' to grow.
    How many Tennis clubs can say the same of having such support? How much of the LTA's £56m a year is spent on providing LTA coaches and/or LTA approved (and subsidised) coaching schemes so that club members can become qualified to encourage young talent to continue the sport? It is all very well being talented but in any sport, unless you are shown the right techniques and have proper (quality) coaching, there is no chance of progression.
    I wonder how many potential champions have spent a few of their formative years hitting a ball on a park court and not had the chance to realise their potential?
    Finally, it is about time that Britain realises that we are not very good at tennis. The LTA's obsession with Tim Henman and Andy Murray makes them think all is well which clearly it isn't!

  • Comment number 26.

    Re 7
    Why would the LTA put its own money into other sports?

    As most of us don't care about tennis, the failure is the LTAs responsibility alone. £30 should get you somewhere, even with a limited playing pool.

    If all else fails they could just pay to send talented youngsters abroad to learn how to play (like with Andy Murray).

  • Comment number 27.

    Even if facilities and funding are in place, I (personally) think Tennis will always struggle to compete for the attention of school-kids and junior participants when compared to the pull of Football, Rugby and other higher profile sports which grab media limelight.

    I dont think it's particularly the fault of Tennis and the LTA, but how many school teachers can any of you remember which actively coached Tennis and encouraged participation? There was none in my school, instead we were more used to on-field games like Football and Rugby, and we even played more Basketball than Tennis.

    I also think its easier for a P.E Teacher to coach and supervise a larger group of pupils playing a team game than identify the possible potential of a Tennis playing school-child, as individual sports are harder to spot talent unless the kids are competing against each other, and a school hold a Tennis tournament? What a rarity that would be.

  • Comment number 28.

    Though I agree that where we are in the davis cup doesn't matter to me, I would say that Tennis is a very popular sport in this country and that I would rather see money being spent on it then amateur judo. In my life I have two dreams; that's to see a British winner at Wimbledon and a world cup winning English side. My other dreams were to see England win the ashes and England win the Rugby world cup both accomplished and both will be remembered fondly for years to come. Once Andy Murray wins Wimbledon I will be quite content to let Judo take tennis' funding, but not a moment before

  • Comment number 29.

    When I was as school (in the mid-90s) the "tennis" courts were just netball courts with a net strung across them for 4 weeks a year. That was all we got. We played 10 times as much netball as we did tennis over the course of a year. We put 10 times as much effort into athletics, too.

    Meanwhile the boys spent all their time on football and basketball, because that was what the teachers were interested in.

    Most schools are only geared up for identifying people good at athelics and football; maybe rugby if you are lucky, or rowing if you're somewhere really posh. Anyone can spot a student who can run fast or kick a ball well.

    But when it came to our 4 weeks of tennis, to be honest, I reckon I knew more about the sport than the teachers did and I was rubbish at it.

  • Comment number 30.

    Ben's point about participation is highly valid. If you can't turn a casual player into a competitive one, you will under-achieve as a sport.

    I'm a regular squash player, though I've never registered with any governing body, or joined a club or league. It's not very likely I'll ever be world number 1, no matter how good I could be (I'm not even average, and far too old now, but that's beside the point). Tennis players like me are never going to improve the state of professional tennis in this country, and that's 80% of the playing population!

    But if I did want to join a club, it would cost me half of what gym membership costs, and I'd be "in the system", susceptible to development. England has 4 top-10 players, including the world number 1.

    Tennis is similarly approachable: there are still thousands of municipal courts. Equipment costs are comparable, court charges similar or even free. Clubs charge a similar amount to join. Yet England has no player in the top 150 in the world.

    I know that squash is not played in as many countries as tennis and England remains one of the sport's heartlands, though it's still a thoroughly global sport, with 19 nationalities in the top 50. I also admit it's slightly unfair to exclude Andy Murray from the comparison, but seriously, the LTA must be wasting its money to a degree that borders on criminal.

  • Comment number 31.

    Ben - I think alot of people care about British success for the 2 weeks Wimbledon is on and it is that period where a large percentage of the population do ask the question on why we have such lack of depth. We have a extremely high profile event yet we are so rubbish at tennis. They get embarrassed.

    So people probably don't care as much when the tournament is not on, but come the summer they want to see home grown players doing well at their home grand slam tournament.

    Each to their own perhaps, I personally don't care if Mark Cavendish does well in the Tour de France. However if a stage was held here then I would care more as it would suddenly become a much higher profile event in the UK.

  • Comment number 32.

    Schools are not there to identify talent and progress it. With the numbers of children involved and the range of activities on offer a school simply cannot have the level of coaching in place

    Schools offer mass participation in sport. They make everyone do it and when a child finds a sport they like or a sport they are good at they join a club outside school and the club then progress them as they do have the specific coaching

    Thats how the system works. But in tennis' case the club simply costs too much money.

    I would love someone to open a tennis club with next to no cost to join and high level coaches available. It would abviously cost money but I would be willing to bet that 5 years after it opened we would have 10 players in both mens and womens top 100.

    I am a coach at a rugby club. It costs £45 a year for a child to join and play rugby. Over the past 3 seasons we have had over 100 kids represent their county, 22 represent regioanal England sides and 4 represent England at age group level. Coincidence? The tennis club in our town costs £500 a year to play (before you buy kit and travel there and back) and they have produced no one.

  • Comment number 33.

    @Rob

    But when a school cares so little about a sport that you get 4 weeks a year doing it, on courts designed for something else, no pupil will ever, ever get the opportunity to realise that they are good at it in the first place, and no pupil will ever get the chance to enjoy it.

    We spent so much time on athletics that those students who were good at it had the opportunity to do very well. Our school actually won a huge national athletics competition one year, as those talented students were given lots of extra after-school training in a push for our school to do well. It meant that some of them did join local clubs outside of school because they had found they were good and it and liked it.

    Likewise, our boy's basketball team were regional champions year after year because so much effort was put into it.

    But if you didn't like athletics, netball, football or basketball you were never going to find the sport you did like, because that was all we did. Nobody is going to pay to join a tennis club, even if it cost £45 a year, if they don't play enough tennis at school to know they are good at it and like it.

  • Comment number 34.

    Yep Ben - spot on! I think the general malaise of our more recognised sports are due to the watering down of funding and junior participation caused by thinking we have to participate in every sport going. We are not a tennis-playing nation - if we were we'd be quite good at it! Apart from the Jamaican Bob-sleigh team, most countries concentrate on their popular sports, so why do we allow the LTA and BBCTv to make our lack of tennis prowess seem important? As you say, there never has been a British golden era in the sport, so what are we mourning? If anything I would pull the millions wasted on tennis and put it into sports that we do play. Tennis is a minority sport in this country and does not deserve the financial support it already gets. You cannot knock square peg inner-city kids into round tennis holes - don't waste the money! I think the old-boy network is pulling the wool over our collective eyes - its jobs for the boys!

  • Comment number 35.

    Surfing Sharka - you don't have to play it at school to have an interest in it. How many schools offer rowing or cycling as options?

    My point was that schools can only offer a broad spectrum of sports and as such they cannot focus on one in particular. If tennis want to get more people involved the clubs should run "free months" where kids can come and play free of charge for a month to see if they like it

    Unfortunately too much in sport has become money driven. Give me £30m a year and I would guarantee top 100 players in 5 years. The formula is simple but too many are lining their own pockets.

  • Comment number 36.

    IF school sport was structured and supported correctly this could be the right place to identify talent but our national curriculum and attitude to competition in all but a few primary schools is woeful. Some sports get IN to schools but that is about as far as it goes. Not until secondary school do so many children compete but by then it is TOO late.

    Does the Davis Cup matter? NO it is a team event in a predominantly solo sport. Unless we have enough decent tennis players why should the weakest GB players be propped up by Henman, Rusedski then Murray at risk of injury to their own careers (however much pride you have in representing your nation?).

    Read the talent Code by Daniel Coyle and see that putting money into a sport doesn't = mass talent you need so much more than that.

  • Comment number 37.

    The media generally are also part of the problem. I remember Carl Fogarty winning 4 World Superbike championships in the mid-late 90's. Did the media celebrate his genius? No. All we got was the usual complaints about the sports that we're not as good at.

    How do we expect the public to know about the sporting success we do have when the media thinks it sells more papers complaining about failure?

  • Comment number 38.

    I would just like to pick up the point regarding Wimbledon being the embodiment of the sport, but that is alien to large sections of the British public.

    I was down at my local tennis venue the other day for a hit around with a friend. I got talking with the coach there, and I asked whether he had seen any of Wimbledon thus far. Wrongly, I assumed that he would be well into it, being that I had traded opinions on the French Open in the weeks previous and that he was a tennis coach. I was rather surprised when he snapped back saying that he had no time for it, that the hard and clay court seasons are much longer and deserving of attention rather than Wimbledon, and that the tradition of the whole event was just laughable.

    Wow, I thought, but when I thought about it, I had to agree with him.

    Another story: I've relocated to Exeter in Devon recently. Just last week I headed down to the local free council tennis courts, where there are a healthy quota of concrete courts. I would prefer a hard court surface, but for free, hell, you can't complain. Anyway, five of the six courts were playable, but one of them was being wrenched apart by kids as we were waiting for a court to become free.

    To conclude: 1) Wimbledon needs a better image 2) free courts, for which there are a wealth out there, need to be looked after, and 3) in my opinion, the BBC need to stop provoking discussion at Queens and Wimbledon EVERY SINGLE YEAR about grass routes tennis, whilst point the finger at the LTA and whoever else is involved.

    We need to be far more patient in the country. Look at the Spanish football team. Years and years of underachievement, and now they are at the top of their game

  • Comment number 39.

    Youre right. Tennis is more like a summer entertainment than a competitive sport in Britain, something like croquet or bowls. It has never made the proper transition to professionalism and retains much of the traditional laid-back concept of sport. Besides, it is a very difficult sport to play in English weather, especially on grass, so how do you build-up a critical mass of players. Given the circumstances Britain has a decent standard when compared with countries in similar conditions.

  • Comment number 40.

    Great blog. It always annoys me to see the amount of funding wasted by the LTA though...

    I'm an avid squash player, and can really see how squash would benefit massively from just a few million quid, let alone 30. We have players at 1,6,8,9 in mens world rankings and 2,4,8 in womens. Yet squash gets virtually no funding despite being non-exclusive and easy to get involved in.

    Not saying we should get funding levels anything close to tennis, totally different ball game but a bit more would be nice!

  • Comment number 41.

    No, course it doesn't matter.

    In a couple of years time our economy will be in a worse state than Turkey's, never mind our tennis.

    Heh... that'll introduce some much-needed perspective I think.

  • Comment number 42.

    Surely tennis is one of those sports where the great players tend to start very young. If so, then encouraging participation and identifying talent at secondary level isn't going to help: you'd need kids to become acquainted with the game aged 5-7, maybe. This means it's down to the clubs to make this a reasonable economic proposition for families. Otherwise, the only good players who develop here are those with an existing family connection to tennis (Henman, Murray, etc.)

  • Comment number 43.

    fair point DM, but Spain have always been a good footballing nation and so the money in grass-roots Spanish football is well-spent. We just spend money propogating the tennis-myth nonsense that the keeps the Gin and Tonic Blazer Brigade going. Pierre Cardin, Pimms, Strawberries and Cream - Dahhhling! This lot don't want inner-city dwellers in their precious clubs!

  • Comment number 44.

    'Besides, it is a very difficult sport to play in English weather, especially on grass, so how do you build-up a critical mass of players. Given the circumstances Britain has a decent standard when compared with countries in similar conditions.'

    You build indoor facilities that don't use grass as a surface. The indoor facilities I have played in are used all year round. The LTA has the funds to build a network of facilities should it choose to do so.

  • Comment number 45.

    Tim and James Matthews - Thanks for bringing up squash. I did actually have a couple of pars in this blog about squash but they got the chop as it was getting too long. Read this, very good piece in the Times about a squash coach up in Pontefract and hsi views on tennis - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/othersports/squash/7537279/Tenniss-middle-class-the-root-of-LTAs-problems-says-leading-squash-coach.html

    SurfingSharka - I agree to a certain extent, in that producing quality sportspeople from schools really isn't rocket science, and I speak from personal experience. I went to a state school near Romford - not, you would have thought, a hotbed of rugby. But one man, way back in the early 70s, decided it would be, and therefore it was. Our first XV was so good every year, we hardly played anyone else in Essex, we had to travel further afield for competition. And you know the great part? When we were 11 or 12, we used to get absolutely hammered, by the same teams and the same players we went on to hammer five or six years later. All because we had a team of committed teachers willing to put their time and effort into improving their charges. The school over the road might have had a Serge Blanco among their ranks, they just never knew it...

  • Comment number 46.

    Nice angle, here is my counterpoint:

    This piece reads like a well known British Comedy sketch character wrote it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Cooper :

    "Why aren't we any good at tennis?"

    - Yeah, but, am I bovvered?

    'The latest "embarrassing" Davis Cup defeat or "shameful" showing at Wimbledon.'

    - Do I look like I’m bovvered?

    "the majority are under-utilised and in a state of disrepair".

    - Face, you, look, am, I, Bovvered?

    why does it matter that we aren't much good at it?

    - I ain’t BOVVERED!!

    As the reader who is familiar with the sketch will realise, the character *is* bothered - and that’s the whole point of the sketch, it’s a parody of a teenager’s reaction of fake denial which comes from hating being embarrassed by some failing that has been exposed.

    What is more, it is nothing more than a kop out to feign indifference when things are going badly, we only have to rewind a few years (O.K. ten) to when things were going well and Great Britain were knocking on the door of the World Group to see that it does matter. The NIA amongst other venues were sold out well in advance, tennis was taken on a tour around the country, a rare chance to see top tennis inside of Britain but outside of Wimbledon.

    Indeed, the raucous atmosphere was far from Centre Court - and held to be a good thing, a chance for people to cheer and shout and not be in such a stuffy atmosphere. In those days some people even hoped for rain delays in the first week of Wimbledon which may lead to play on the middle Sunday - “People’s Sunday” - when ordinary fans could frequent the show courts en-masse and fill it up with Mexican waves and football style chanting. Henman’s match against Haarhuis is memorable, as of course, was Goran Ivanisevic against Pat Rafter in the 2001 Monday final.

    To reply in particular to various points raised: why does it matter? Well the article outlines about 26 million reasons for being interested – if we want public bodies to be accountable for tax payer’s money that is given to them then it is perfectly justifiable to ask what happened and why the outcomes in no way match up to the investment, particularly in these times of austerity.

    The point is made that it is not cheap to bring up a budding tennis star, and yet there is plenty of public funding which if channelled into the right places (a whole other discussion) should surely be directly set against these costs for those with the talent to succeed, removing this as a factor.

    Yes elitism means it is hard to get started, but the larger problem is that for those who do get started, and who go on to show talent and succeed, the conversion rate into international standard players is just over 0%. I went to school with the county champion, but there was absolutely no path to the top, no talent scouts, no agents, no eager coaches trying to take her under their wing.

    Imagine if that was football, we have 14 year olds being transferred for seven figure sums and trained in expensive academies, tennis gets none of that. Not in this country anyway. A quick scan across our current prospects shows several in the USA at college or in academies and of course our current number one who spent his formative years in Barcelona and once remarked upon returning to these shores that the LTA has ‘ruined’ my brother. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/tennis/4479080.stm

    “And what about the Spanish when it comes to rugby league?”

    What about Southerners in England? How many Spaniards actually know the rules or have ever watched a match? Come on…

    “Or the Americans when it comes to cricket?”

    A better example is what about the West Indies, and the answer is that they are bothered and the inquests are taking place. Should they again rise towards the top of the sport, it won’t be because they ran and hid when faced with the barrel scrapings, it will be because they cared enough to roll up their sleeves and make the necessary changes to ensure better harvests in the future. http://www.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/437940.html

  • Comment number 47.

    It would be the weirdest thing if England lost to Turkey. I am from Istanbul and if you ask random people in the street there is no chance of earth you will find two people in a row that even know the names of two Turkish tennis players. There is no proper backing of tennis in Turkey, just people trying to do something on their own; admirable, but hardly how it should be.

  • Comment number 48.

    jmb - you rather miss the point of the article when you mention the West Indies view of cricket. As Ben points out there is a clear sense that Britain has never been a tennis force, only the host of its premier tournament.

    Cricket defines the West Indies! A group of independent nations and semi-autonomous provinces (including islands belonging to the USA actually!) come together for the sole purpose of cricket, so obviously when their team declines it is hugely important to their entire culture. Tennis is not at the same level in the British psyche, no where near. Football is, and cricket and rugby union probably come in a distant third and fourth. Then arguably athletics, boxing, golf and Formula 1 (where we have such great history of successes) come before tennis.

    All I know is that I'm a fanatical supporter of British sport in virtually all forms. I can feel the joy or despair of every moment of a Henman or Murray match as much as a Seb Coe lunge for the line or a Faldo putt at Augusta. But I don't care about the Davis Cup, I really don't. Maybe I'm preconditioned by years of failure in it, and if we were vying for success every year I would care - but I doubt it. Its not part of British sporting culture, in the way that cricket is not part of the maintsream US culture or rugby is in Spain - that's the point of the article, which I found very interesting.

  • Comment number 49.

    jmb - I can see your point, bit I can't agree. I don't think people are feigning indifference, I think they are genuinely indifferent. But I don't think this is restricted to tennis - to be honest, I'm not sure most people in Britain are that bothered about success in most sports, except football, but any success is a bonus. It's only the media who make out everyone's apoplectic about everything. As for the £26m, well that was a point of mine - if all this money is making no difference, then why not give it to other sports where it might? Tennis already gets £30m from Wimbledon a year.

  • Comment number 50.

    Good blog...

    I have never understood why tennis receives sport england money. it is a) well financed by sponsorship and Wimbledon anyway, b) unsuccessful! c) not a mass participation sport where funding in will notably incraese the numbers of people participating in sport.

  • Comment number 51.

    didnt finish what i was writing then. my final point is what confuses me most about tennis - if the argument for public subsidy to sport is that it increases particpation, well being, fitness and health, i cannot see how we get value for money from funding tennis which, is an individualist sport. That's presumably why golf does not get much money even though it is successful.

  • Comment number 52.

    jmb - What about Southerners in England? How many Spaniards actually know the rules or have ever watched a match? Come on…

    isnt taht teh point of public subsidy. to raise participation?

    I set up a rugby league club in a town that didnt have one and we now have 30+ players at open age, and hopefully U-15s next year. I'll admit, its up north but the same structures for developing new clubs and increasing participation operate across england...see http://www.rugbyleagueconference.co.uk/ and scroll through the different leagues that now extend across the country all in addition to trh traditional BARLA leagues in teh north. the RFL have gone down the participation route to get to excellence. we have masters tournaments (to attract people up to the age of 60 back into sport) as well as junior development with a formal 'talent' structure so that even my side, which is brand new, knoes who to contact if we get someone who we think can progress up towards elite level.

  • Comment number 53.

    'i cannot see how we get value for money from funding tennis which, is an individualist sport. That's presumably why golf does not get much money even though it is successful.'

    Does most money in tennis not come from the LTA (not a public body) than government? If so we do not publicly fund much tennis in this country.

    Also by saying it should not get funding because it is an individualist sport is like saying only team sports should get public funding - therefore the likes of athletics, swimming and cycling should not get any public cash except when it comes to relays.

  • Comment number 54.

    The trouble with tennis is that it is ELITIST..it is a posh persons sport..how many players do we have that have come from working class families from say the East End?..err..zero...the LTA is run by a bunch of elitist's who worry about what you wear, then how you play...the millions they make is obscene, considering how litle they spend..the sooner someone realise's this tennis will always be a minority sport in this country.

  • Comment number 55.

    unounos - The LTA is getting £26m from Sport England between 2009-2013, so the public does fund tennis.

  • Comment number 56.

    "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?"

    Ben, with the Italians and golf thats a fair point since its mainstream but; with the Spanish and Rugby League and in particular the Americans and Cricket, there is definitely not the same foundations for success. Very few Americans play cricket, few Spanish play Rugby League with the exception of the Basque region.

    The UK has pumped seemingly infinite amounts of money into improving our success with few tangible results. It wouldn't matter so much if we weren't consistently trying to change the status quo. No matter how hard we try, it seems we cannot produce regularly quality players.

    I think its absolutely fair to say that the US does not concentrate on cricket, not the Spanish on Rugby League, like the UK focusses on tennis. Even the Italians (although I must admit I am not basing this on any empirical data) surely do not spend a huge amount on the success of their golfers. The exception here is that golf is indeed mainstream so quality players spring up usually, without necessarily the need for funding.

    But in essence, the Brits do expect to be highly successful in the sports arena but we do not seem to have the temperament to succeed at the highest level (with honorable exceptions in cycling and rowing, for example.)

  • Comment number 57.

    Good blog...

    You rightly point out that no country can be good at every sport and this is especially the case in the UK where the major UK sports have the vast amount of the sporting population.

    As you say, squash (and a lesser extent badminton) shows that this country does produce people with great raquet skills, physical fitness and drive to make it to the top of their sport although I am sure squash is played in fewer countries (presumably a reason why it still has not reached the olympics despite highely populated countries such as Eygpt, India, Pakistan, Malaysia all with a strong squash background) so the numbers reaching the top will should be higher in the UK.

    But on a slightly more positive note, Team GB are improving within doubles with 5 men in the top 100! Some credibility!

  • Comment number 58.

    Education system is a letdown for tennis, how juniors are expected to revise and focus on their exams instead of competing with other juniors from around the world.

    The future stars should be allowed to make their own success, look at what Marco Baghdatis went through to reach the top. Cyprus has a population of 870k, compared to our 60M odd and both nations have what is considered 1 elite player.

    Regardless on if people like tennis, we probably should be more successful. Just from my opinion, it is down to how the players are managed and their priorities.

  • Comment number 59.

    Mind you Andywasp, ain't formula 1 elitist? i don't think Lewis Hamilton ever steamed Lewisham High Street and good ole Jensen, well.
    I think the point is that elitist sports should not be receiving govt. (our) money, the old boy network looks after its own... Tennis does not need or deserve public funding.

  • Comment number 60.

    If you look at the statistics of British tennis juniors at the grand slam events, you will see a fair amount of success...then they in general disappear off the radar. I think a lot of the reasons behind this is a lack of hunger because they can earn a reasonable living by turning pro and playing on the satellite tour without improving to the level required to compete with the very elite. Then there are the wildcards they can get at Wimbledon, thousands for just turning up, and almost inevitably losing...normally with "brave" and "promising" being the condescending epithets bestowed upon them by the media.

    Like or loathe him, Andy Murray is a highly driven individual striving to make the most of his talents, but he seems to be the exception to the rule.

  • Comment number 61.

    re 54. At 4:32pm on 09 Jul 2010, ANDYWASP wrote:
    The trouble with tennis is that it is ELITIST..it is a posh persons sport..how many players do we have that have come from working class families from say the East End?..err..zero...


    I kind of see your point but how many university educated (or even educated) people do we see playing in the premier league each saturday?? Maybe a few but they will be the foreign players!!

    Tennis as a sport is not elitist and I think that is what the blog is saying, it is just the set-up of the sport in this country! And this needs to change!

  • Comment number 62.

    'mind you Andywasp, ain't formula 1 elitist? i don't think Lewis Hamilton ever steamed Lewisham High Street and good ole Jensen, well.'

    Neither Button or Hamilton are from wealthy backgrounds. In Jenson's case his father worked in motorsport and both families made huge financial sacrifices for their kids - look it up, Jenson went to a comprehensive school in Frome.

  • Comment number 63.

    @ AndyWasp

    so tell me what do you know of the backgrounds of the current players other than Murray:

    Boggo, Baker, Ward, Evans, Goodall are these guys all from posh backgrounds?

    so many times i hear people saying 'kids from the street' never get a chance, but who hear can really tell me anything about the above 5's background.

  • Comment number 64.

    All sport is more exciting if you have a stake in what is going on. When I first watched tennis we had ladies with a serious chance of winning, and indeed managed it with Ann Jones, then later with Virginia Wade in the US as well as Wimbledon, and Sue Barker in the French. On the mens side there was Roger Taylor and Mark Cox getting to 1/4 finals, and even semis a couple of times.

    The ladies game hasn't really had any top brits since those times, with apologies to Jo Durie, and the mens seems to have one at a time with nothing behind it, so the stake has diminished more and more, until it is just something to watch. Without that chance to see winners the championship ceases to actually matter much. I haven't bothered watching the ladies final for some years as the play is so one dimensional - she who hits hardest wins.

    So, does it matter? No. Could it matter? Only if we start to see brits winning again.

  • Comment number 65.

    This is a well thought out and intelligent comment on the state of British tennis. As a young teenager, almost 20 years ago now, I found myself with some moderate talent for tennis and a real enjoyment of playing the sport. It was one of very few sports that I felt I could play and enjoy and, within a physical education system that marginalised all children who didn't display instant ability at the prominent sports of football and athletics, that was virtually all that maintained my young interest in playing sports at all.

    I'm not suggesting that I might have become a great tennis player myself. But the exclusive 'high society attitude' of the local tennis clubs combined with a lack of interest in the sport at my comprehensive school gave me little opportunity to play tennis, let alone gain quality training and develop as a player.

    The pursuit of excellence in any sport is not a futile exercise and I do believe that we should care whether we're producing good tennis players as we should continue to aim to produce top level sports people playing football, both rugby codes, cricket, golf, swimming, athletics and more. The enjoyment that people get from watching these sports and investing hope in performance of our sports people is tangible not to mention the benefits to national health created by people being enthused by the participation in sports.

    Tennis is a hugely popular sport as the yearly interest in Wimbledon testifies to, but the exclusive attitude remains. It has spent the last two decades trying to grow as a sport while vainly clinging on to its exclusive sense of itself. Until that sense is shed completely and youngsters of all backgrounds are encouraged and made to feel welcome into the playing and training centres of the sport then we will continue to be left with just the occasional 'one off' player at the top level of the game.

  • Comment number 66.

    Ben you are easily the best blogger on this site. It is nice to see someone questioning the bandwagons rather than jumping on them headfirst.

    I don't believe many people follow tennis apart from perhaps the Grand Slams and Queens. I try to but I find it quite difficult, I don't fancy paying a second mortgage for sky and smaller tournaments aren't given decent coverage. If they were I guess not many would watch.

    Still, it doesn't stop me wishing we spent the LTA money more wisely.





  • Comment number 67.

    i think the people who have mentioned money have hit the nail on the head. the fact is the spanish dont spend money on rugby league, the americans on cricket etc etc

    Also why to be good at tennis do we need more than 1 person being good? we dont ask why the australians are not good at tennis even though they normally only have one top player in every generation.
    i also feel more emphasis should be put into davis cup..we have a top 4 player for the singles and in fleming and skupski we have a doubles team which has already proven that it can beat the best!

  • Comment number 68.

    Ben,

    You may have a point but I think it is a point you could make about all sport outside of football? How many people really are interested in cycling or rowing away from the Olympics? If you walk down a high street in Essex and ask people to name a famous English golfer, how many could? Not many I'd guess so are we just to write off all other sport to concentrate on football? Well maybe but we're not very good at that are we? One World Cup win in 80 years? Not exactly prolific but keeps you hacks in business for most months of the year.

    If you look at viewing figures for Wimbledon, it gets some of the highest tv ratings of any year, particularly through the Henman years but continuing through with Murray. The problem for tennis is the bulk of coverage of most events is on Sky and its profile has dropped as a result!

    As for lack of results we are a nation of losers or more pointedly, gallant losers! We love the heroic failure more than the dull win! Plus anyone who does succeed just becomes fair game for you guys to wait for the fall! You are all already merrily predicting the demise of Federer! Ask Nadal if he thinks Federer is finished!

    Stick to sports we are big in Ben like football and wait for the glory to come! I suspect you are in for a long wait!

  • Comment number 69.

    Well done stwl!

    How many of today's leading tennis players took up the game in their teens? None, I suspect. If you are not winning titles at the age of around 8 you can pretty much forget it. So you have to start playing at around 5 or 6.

    How many 5-6 year olds in the UK have ever picked up a racket Unless you have your own court (Henman, Murray) I suggest its not far from nil. And even if they have done, how many parents would be make their children forgo all other sport (and, come to that, educational opportunities) to develop their tennis... on the very off chance that they might make it? And even if they did what LEA would let them do it!

    That is why we have so many players from eastern Europe. Tennis is a ticket out - the risk is worth taking as there is probably not much to lose. That does not apply here.

    And the chances of making it must be smaller in tennis than any other sport. Any child with any sporting talent would be well advised to steer clear of tennis where fewer than 100 or so players in the world make much of a living (and what a living! Hotel room to hotel room, around the world with little or no break. No many happy marriages in tennis!).

    Tennis is healthy in the UK as a social, amateur sport that people play for fun. Leave it at that.

  • Comment number 70.

    It's not comparable with American cricket or Spanish rugby etc. for two reasons - 1) we invented the sport and 2) we host perhaps its biggest event every year. That's why the state of tennis here is rightly an embarrassment.

    Countries like Spain have 10 of the top 100 in the rankings. Three or four for Britain would be acceptable, with at least one challenging at the very top end, in the men's and women's game at any given time. There's countries with a fraction of the population producing top players, it just appears something is going wrong in terms of the transition to the highest level here.

    Stopping the wild cards to British no-hopers was a step in the right direction, don't give players lacking the ambition a way of making a living from the game without doing much at all. Now it's a case of encouraging the talented young players who are hungry for success.

  • Comment number 71.

    nffc_1978 - But that was one of my points though - why does the fact we hold the biggest tournament in the world mean we should necessarily have any decent players? We've had the biggest tournament in the world for more than 100 years and we've produced few players of any note in all that time, we've never really had any playing tradition in the game. Obviously, the Spain/rugby league analogy was a stretched one, but my point was that Spain has other sports, just as Britain has other sports. As for us 'inventing' the sport, we also invented baseball...

  • Comment number 72.

    Wimbledon generates the public interest though, and any sport that is in the national consciousness leads to the public demanding success. Anyone who does compete at or close to the top level (Murray, Henman before him) gets a lot of attention and expectation. There's plenty of lower profile sports with less resources that British competitors do very well at, so why shouldn't we be producing world class tennis players?

    Not that bothered about Davis Cup really, would be more interesting as an all at once every few years competition like other sports' World Cups rather than the current format, but Grand Slam champions would be great for the country.

  • Comment number 73.

    I think someone made an excellent point earlier. Someone should see the LTA take account for their woeful organisation and continuing failure, and the vast funding given to Roehampton etc. every year should instead be directed to jetting bona fide talents to the places that do produce the champions time and again (bollatieri, moratuglou, sanchez casal etc) Creating links with these places and forcing the spoilt and spoon fed culture out of those who aren't willing to work for it initially is what builds the champions. If you're playing to escape or make a better life for yourself like many of the former Eastern bloc players who've previously made the trip to Florida, the drive to succeed is intensified. There's certainly no other reason than hunger and desire that a country as small in populus as serbia has (or at least did have) three of the worlds very best players not long ago..

  • Comment number 74.

    Yes, it DOES matter.

    As with football,cricket,rugby, we invented the bloody sport! We should therefore have a vested interest in stuffing Johnny Foreigner on any sporting field.

    Now, seriously...it still does matter;we are fairly populous, and have a sporting tradition to try & maintain. OK, we won't always get that close to excellence, but the present Davis Cup grouping reminds you of the title of the Goons' only movie-DOWN AMONGST THE Z-MEN!

    The money in schools is fine, BUT my generation(I was born in 1952)for example had about 93% never playing sport again after they left school. I doubt suceeding generations are any different.

    That is the problem-general indifference to participating again. And Tennis courts are a lot more difficult and expensive to maintain than council footie pitches, which is a hard one to crack.

    There is also a class issue here, like it or not. Tennis clubs will always look after the middle-class "nice" youngsters first and foremost.

    No accident that when Laura Robson took Junior Wimbledon 2 years back, who was the first newspaper to adopt her-Yup, Daily Mail. Wonder if Laura would have got where she is now, had she been born in, say, Toxteth, Moss Side or Hackney? I don't doubt her determination, by the way, just the assistance the system wouldn't have given her on any other talented working-class kid.

    Wonder how Fred Perry would have gotten on if he was 18 now? He, by the way, was a mere milkman's son!

  • Comment number 75.

    I think the reason it may matter is precisely because we're maybe the only country that could win the football, cricket, & rugby World Cups (notwithstanding the recent footy and rugby records).

    Ignoring 'american' & winter sports, it's probably only basketball which is a genuine world sport that we don't perform at! There is an expectation amongst the public that we should find top performers in every global sport because that is what our sporting history suggests. This is why I think there is genuine surprise that we are unable to produce a grand slam winner.

    If we can produce a gold medalist in the skeleton it should not be beyond this country's ability to produce a tennis champion and I would say it's a matter of pride almost and so does indeed matter!

  • Comment number 76.

    'nffc_1978 - But that was one of my points though - why does the fact we hold the biggest tournament in the world mean we should necessarily have any decent players?'

    It does not mean we should, nothing is a certainty. BUT the fact we throw millions at it and invest a huge amount of national pride and energy behind our players means we kind of hope that the huge funds invested in national tennis can at least produce a few decent players. For the few weeks Wimbledon is on, the nation cares a hell of alot... then forgets.

  • Comment number 77.

    I think the bigger question is... How desperate and amature are the Beeb journalists getting? It is a real shame when rather than blog about something relevant, new and intelligent they are posting ridiculous comments in the hope of rousing a reaction.
    For years I have respected the BBC's 'on the pulse' journalism, sadly now I feel they are all just tabloid wanabees!!!
    Get a grip auntie, these "journalists" are not doing you any favours at all, get rid and find some talent please?!!!!
    Ben Dirs... have a look at yourself!!!!

  • Comment number 78.

    Perhaps the point should be does Davis Cup matter not tennis , half our tennis players are women who don't play Davis cup.
    Not to mention that the women's side of tennis is a lot stronger than the men's anyway so perhaps the funding is paying off.
    Also (a while ago I admit) it was the girls that played tennis,hockey,netball in my school while the boys did football,rugby,tennis.

  • Comment number 79.

    I think it really depends on your point of view.

    For example, if you ask someone in Scotland which they would rather watch out of tennis and cricket the answer will be tennis 95% of the time.

    It pains me to see the LTA's money spent so poorly on over-paid coaches and one huge training complex when it would be better spent investing in local clubs, reducing membership fees, subsidising coaching for talented youngsters (there's plenty of them!) and encouraging more people to play.

    It does matter that we are useless at it because, as many other people have said, we host the biggest tournament in the world and it is embarassing that we are unable to compete to a decent standard in it with the exception of Murray.

  • Comment number 80.

    I think there is an argument that the question is being framed through the views and expectations of the media. While I don't agree with post #77 as far as you are concerned Ben, I do sometimes think that the image of Tennis, like Golf, fits in with perceived views of journalists and senior BBC managers.

    I've enjoyed playing Tennis and Golf with family and friends (my father is approaching 80 and still plays Tennis). But the (perceived) image of both sports strike a dissonant chord with many people. In the case of Golf the concept of the "Club" (or the people in it) certainly put me off playing more, which is a shame. Rugby League probably has a similar effect on some people.

    Of course I know some people will dislike or disagree with that sentiment.
    As a student I used to play for the University Bridge club in a local league, and I met more than a few (non-playing) friends who regarded it as some kind of an upper-class-toff's past time. But before away matches we usually made sure we found time for two (or four) pints at the local before the match (and a game of pool if there was a table).

    So Tennis is in a 'down' phase at the moment. Does it matter?
    No.
    There are far more people who go out walking the British countryside, climbing in the hills and old quarries, fishing the lakes and rivers, or simply mucking-about in a boat. They don't need sports reporters from the BBC or national newspapers to tell them how to enjoy themselves or whether they should worry about the competitive abilities of the national team.

  • Comment number 81.

    Do we have no pride that we host one of the great world sporting events? France, the US and Australia also hosts, bust a gut to bring on champions, so why not us? I don't know the answer to that, but I do agree with other comments about any sport but football being pushed into the sidelines. A few years ago during the summer months there was speculation about where David Beckham would go.....tittle tattle basically, but it shoved the summer sports into the position of also-rans. Then a few days ago, the BBC news said "Andy Murray crashes out of Wimbledon...." very encouraging for a brit who had for a change, played to his potential, but met an inspired Nadal on the day. "Crashes" is emotive and derogatory, implying that he had played a stinker. No wonder we have problems!!

  • Comment number 82.

    You've got to remember one important thing about the Davis Cup, and that's if Andy Murray bothered to turn up, he's probably good for two winning rubbers all on his own. From there, it would be a heck of a lot easier to progress in the competition.

  • Comment number 83.

    Davis Cup as a competition is just pants. Why don't they just translate the Olympic format into a team set up and stage it over a couple of weeks every 4 years ( in World Cup Football years so that it alternates with the Olympics)

  • Comment number 84.

    This is a rather silly piece, and I'm surprised no-one else has said the same thing.

    This is why we should be good at tennis:

    * Because we host the biggest tournament in the sport. Ben, name another country that hosts the biggest tournament in the sport, yet is so bad at it. There is a huge live and tv audience for Wimbledon who are desperate for home success - and not just from one Brit who wasn't even a product of the LTA

    Wimbledon is also a huge opportunity for the sport. Have you seen how many people are inspired to play while the tournament's on?

    * Becaust the LTA gets £30m from Wimbledon every year. Don't you think that cash should be used to produce some good players? I don't think any other country has that kind of money to spend on tennis

    * Because a huge number of people participate in the sport, as you point out. Many are playing just for fun. But many are kids who want to excel. Don't you think the structures should be in place for them to do so? Aren't we letting them down if not?

    I must say, this reads as a poorly thought out piece from someone who simply isn't interested in tennis. I look forward to your responses

  • Comment number 85.

    akaTommySmith - Many thanks for your comment. Let me answer your points one at a time:

    "Because we host the biggest tournament in the sport" - yes, but this was one of my points - so what if we host one of the biggest tournaments in the sport, it's been one of the biggest tournaments in the sport for more than 100 years and we've never had much of a playing tradition in tennis. Why do people think that this should automatically translate into great players? As I argued, I actually think Wimbledon could be part of the problem, because it perpetuates the image of tennis as an exclusive, expensive past-time.

    "Have you seen how many people are inspired to play while the tournament's on?" - Yes, and as soon as it's finished, everyone puts their racquets back into the cupboard under the stairs.

    "Becaust the LTA gets £30m from Wimbledon every year" - Quite, and they've been throwing money at it for many, many years, and nothing's happened - so surely you have to conclude that British people aren't that interested? Why not throw money at sports they are interested in. The fact that the LTA receive another £26m from the public seems like a bit of a joke to me.

    "Because a huge number of people participate in the sport" - Quite, but how many of that 500,000 who play weekly are playing it to any kind of level? Maybe there should be structures in place, but the overriding point of the piece is, if we keep having this discussion year after year after year, keep throwing millions at the problem with no results, if public courts keep crumbling and being closed because the public aren't using them, if tennis can't shake off its exclusive image, if kids can't access the sport for less money than at present, then that all adds up to a country that isn't, as a whole, in love with the sport. As such, and contrary to what the British media will have you believe, how many people are actually that bothered that we aren't much good at it?

  • Comment number 86.

    I am now in my sixties and used to love tennis over the years, from playing it as a 12 year old through to seeing the golden years of Rosewall, Drobny, Hoad, Wade, Borg, Connors King, Goolagong etc right up to the days of Emerson, Cash, McEnroe etc - now we have British players who, when interviewed, make Steve Davis seem "interesting" and the women's game where the one who grunts and flatulates the loudest wins and men who are so disrepectful of the game that they look scruffier than a hobo when playing the game. These days I prefer to watch slug racing.

  • Comment number 87.

    I have to pay for my local park court. I don't have to pay to play football :\

  • Comment number 88.

    Speaking from personal experience, a couple of years ago before i went to university i got quite into Tennis and started playing more, but the major issue was always a lack of cheap, available facilities.

    Within about a 5 mile radius of me, i knew of 3 sets of tennis courts. There were 2 clubs with lovely grass courts that cost an arm and a leg to play on (far too much for a lad working part-time 3 days a week in a newsagents), and 1 set of concrete courts that were free. Unfortunately those free courts were litter strewn and broken down, and most of the time the nets were broken. Annoyingly, within 100 metres of these abominations was a beautifully well kept bowling green and a top notch cricket field, complete with pavillion.

    The great shame in all this is that Tennis is actually a great sport to play. Active but not exhausting (see squash), and accessible to both men and women of all ages. I've never met a person that actively dislikes playing Tennis in the same way i've seen people who despised playing Cricket, Rugby and Football. The big problem is giving people the opportunity and motivation to play it in the first place.

  • Comment number 89.

    Thanks for your response Ben.

    We agree that: loads of people play tennis; there's lots of interest during Wimbledon; the LTA has masses of cash.

    But you should have done a little more research to reach the right conclusions.

    What has the LTA spent the cash on? A lavish national tennis centre. Top coaches on mega salaries, like Annacone, Gilbert and Maes. A chief exec on a mega salary. And elitist, middle class clubs.

    Why don't people play beyond Wimbledon? Because clubs are expensive and middle class. Park courts are locked and expensive. And coaching is very expensive.

    Not enough has been done at grassroots level. GB has all the ingredients to get lots of people playing and to develop them, yet not the nous.

    The LTA should hang their heads in shame.

    And Ben, you raised a reasonable question and got halfway to the right answer but should have spoken to people and got out and about to see what's going on for yourself.

  • Comment number 90.

    I think #89 has it somewhere about right. Whether it is or not, Tennis has a look and feel of a very high class sport. As a parent I wouldn't have a clue where to start looking if any of my family showed an interest in it and there's nowhere to go just to hit a ball about for half an hour.

    I think Dirsy is also somewhere about right. I don't think people in Britain really do care about Tennis but probably DO care that it seems to get a lot of money that it apparently doesn't do anything with.

    Finally, isn't there something very un-British about people like Nadal and Federer? Their size, strength and athleticism (sp?) isn't something I've ever seen Britain produce.

  • Comment number 91.

    "they've been throwing money at it for many, many years, and nothing's happened - so surely you have to conclude that British people aren't that interested?"

    That doesnt really make any sense at all. Weve been throwing money at the sport for years and nothing has happened because the money hasnt been spent right. I dont see how you can link the lack of success in tennis to people not caring about the sport.

    The bottom line is Tennis is probably one of the most competitive sports in the world. This, along with putting the funding to poor use, is the reason why we havent produced many good players. Only the top 80 ranked players in the entire world can make a good living at it. How many golfers can make a good living? Probably more like 500. Why not conclude that we havent produced more good players because its such a competitive sport that a lot of people around the world care deeply about?

    Perhaps we have produced a lot of good rowing teams because hardly any other countries bother with the sport? We certainly take track cycling a hell of a lot more seriously than most countries hence why we have had success at it. And i think its possible that we also have a lot of good golfers because Golf is a sport which around the world is nowhere near as widely played among youngsters as Tennis is. Sure, there are a lot of middle aged men playing golf around the world but how many young kids play? Probably more kids play golf in England than most other countries. Can you imagine Eastern European kids playing golf like they do Tennis?

    And lets look at the most competitive sport in the World - Football. We might say we invented it and its our number one sport but we havent won the world cup for 40 odd years. Thats not because nobody cares - its because near enough every kid in the world wants to be a pro footballer and hence the competition is far greater.

    I think we can conclude that in Britain we're very good at sports which around the world few people care about. But we're not that good at the 2 truly global sports - Football and Tennis - because so many people do care about them that you have to be an absolutely exceptional talent to get to the top.


 

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