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The future's bright, the future's British

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Jonathan Overend | 13:29 UK time, Monday, 3 October 2011

At the recent Davis Cup tie in Glasgow, with the British team changed and ready to play, a couple of 16-year-old lads gatecrashed the locker room. Eyebrows were raised, but security was not required.

They weren't lost or looking to cause trouble. Though few people in the room knew it, they were two of British tennis's finest prospects.

Luke Bambridge and Kyle Edmund had been told to give the team talk by captain Leon Smith, who is also the head of men's tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). British number one Andy Murray was about to be lectured by the rookies.

The speech wasn't exactly an epic tub-thumper, but up they stood and away they went - said all the right things, impressed all the right people.

Kyle Edmund

Yorkshire-born Kyle Edmund reached the semis of the US Open Juniors last month. Photo: Getty

A couple of weeks later, here they are as Junior Davis Cup winners along with the third member of the team, Evan Hoyt, and captain Greg Rusedski. It is the first time Britain have won the event and it is significant reward for a hard-working bunch.

Coming off the back of a successful US Open, when three of the four boys' semi-finalists were Brits, it's impossible not to glow with expectancy for - at last - a bright future.

Of course there is no guarantee of that - promising junior talent has evaporated through every generation and every age group (and Britain is not alone here) - but there are definite signs of encouragement.

For a start, Hoyt, Edmund and Bambridge - born within a fortnight of each other in January 1995 - all look to me like proper tennis players.

They are six-foot-plus, they move well, they are comfortable in all areas of the court and they have big shots. Hoyt has speed and great tactical awareness, Edmund and Bambridge both possess the almost obligatory modern-day combination of big serve, big forehand.

Then there is the athletic ability. Huge strides appear to have been made in the LTA physical training department under Arran Peck, formerly of Ulster Rugby Club, and these lads will beef up considerably over the next couple of years.

Then comes the attitude. They love to compete, they love to play on clay. They don't appear to be in the game for an easy ride or a cushy lifestyle and it's up to them to keep believing this. The minute they waver, the minute their careers will stall.

Bambridge has impressed by winning a series of long tight matches while Hoyt would not have been Rafael Nadal's Wimbledon practice partner three days in a row with anything less than a perfect work ethic.

National Tennis Centre, Roehampton

The National Tennis Centre in Roehampton has been key to young players' development. Photo: Getty

They all come from different areas of the country and different coaching backgrounds.

Welshman Hoyt is a student at Tim Henman's former school - Reeds in Surrey - where coach Ben Haran, assisted by early-morning alarm clocks, is achieving terrific things.

Edmund, from Yorkshire, worked for several years with John Black at Bisham Abbey before basing himself at the National Tennis Centre with long-time LTA coach Colin Beecher.

Interestingly Beecher remains in close contact with Black, sending match reports and stats through for feedback. There is no need for Black to be jettisoned, knowing the player so well.

Likewise, Martin Weston, who helped develop Bambridge at Loughborough, just down the road from the player's Nottingham home. Weston remains in close contact with his former charge, still going on some trips, even though Beecher has the coaching reins.

This inclusiveness and recognition for coaches who have done good work with junior players is a big step forward under Smith's leadership at the LTA. There is more to be done but we are heading in the right direction, finally.

Credit must also go to Rusedski, who is insisting on great professionalism from all the 15 to 18-year-olds, that crucial development age bracket. He is giving something back to the sport and the nation that has treated him so well and, for that, he should be applauded.

Also over the weekend, Laura Robson qualified for the WTA event in Tokyo, achieving a career-high ranking of 141 and Northampton's Alex Ward won a first futures (third tier) title in Sweden.

Oh, and someone called Andrew Murray won in Thailand. A 19th title for him, they tell me. How refreshing that there are others under the GB flag who steal attention from the main man today.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Be wary, a certain man called Roger Federer never set the junior world alight and look how he turned out.

    But it's good to see good news for British Tennis for once. If Murray can get to 3rd in the rankings and avoid Nadal in the semis of slams... who knows what can happen then? A major for him, inspiring kids up and down the country into playing tennis....

  • Comment number 2.

    The holy grail has always been having a group of talented and committed players, pushing each other to achieve more, and sharing the pressure, rather than having a single player by himself (Henman, followed by Murray) carrying the weight of the country's expectations.

    Fingers crossed, it looks as if the vast investment by the LTA is finally starting to deliver results.

  • Comment number 3.

    Hold your horses. We've been here before with promising juniors. Lets hope they make it with the apparent top work ethic and ruthlessness that they are displaying. Good luck to them, so far so good.

    But it's alarmingly conventional for us to hype the juniors up and heap the pressure on them. Though it's pessimistic - as the seemingly brain dead British tennis regime has taught me to be - I don't think we should be jumping on the bandwagon just yet.

    And not long ago the NTC was exactly what was wrong with the British tennis ideology according to most tennis journalists and reporters, a waste of money spent erroneously - the question of why not 40 indoor centres for £1m each rather than 1 for £40m was bandied about rather a lot. Now, with a hint of potential success on the horizon, it's the 'key to young players development'? Slightly hypocritical.

  • Comment number 4.

    Roger Federer won junior Wimbledon and lost in the US Open final (might have been to Nalbandian I think) in 1998. He also ended the year ranked number 1 and won the Orange Bowl. So I'd hardly say that he did not set the world alight as a junior. A lot was expected of him as a result of what he did as a junior and struggled under this expectation initially. That the problem that could arise with these guys and what they probably most need to be careful of, because by the time they properly get on tour you imagine the likes of Federer and Nadal - because of the way he plays - won't be around.

  • Comment number 5.

    Pleasure to read. Tennis talnt development is an odds game - from where the guys stand today, I imagine there must be a 10% or 20% chance at best of a top 50 future. The difference is the number of guys we now have knocking on the door...remember our US Open Junior champ didn't play. Not to mention Robson, Watson etc. Keeping them very much crossed!

  • Comment number 6.

    At long last it looks like there are junior players in Britain that look likely to shake up the Tennis perspective in the country. With Hoyt, Edmund and Bambridge all being 16, plus Broady, Golding and Morgan being around the age of 17/18, competition is bound to heat up.

    It's a long and arduous road ahead for all of these players to prove that they are not just a flash in the pan and they should look to make the transition to senior tournaments sooner rather than later to really put their talent and resolve to the test.

    Hats off to Greg Rusedski as he is the exact type of personality that British tennis needs to really progress on the men's side of things. People forget that he is a former US Open finalist and world number 4 and that he did not get to that position by accident. His experience and lively nature can only encourage these younger players into becoming as good as they want to be. He also did a good job with James Ward in the last couple of years.

    Good luck the lads!

  • Comment number 7.

    @4 Sorry, I meant Nadal. I knew it was either Federer or Nadal that never did much at junior level. I picked the wrong one!!

  • Comment number 8.

    @TSC - Come on Martin Gould

    Erm, you're still wrong I'm afraid. Nadal was winning men's tournaments on the Futures and Challenger tours at the age of 15. He played almost exclusively on clay at that time, so he didn't enter any of the junior Slams, but he turned pro at that age and won the men's FO when he was only 19 at his first attempt - that FO also was the tournament in which he beat a 29 year old record for the most consecutive victories on clay (53).

    In fact, his record as a junior is almost removed by the fact he turned pro so early and started winning - he won his first ATP level match at 15. It's almost like he didn't have a proper "junior" career.

    You do him a disservice with that statement. I am no fan of his style of play but you cannot deny his accomplishments, and at such a young age.

  • Comment number 9.

    maybe the performance side is beginning to get sorted. british tennis is finally got a good structure from mini tennis all the way to the likes of Golding etc. we cant get ahead of ourselves. all this hype can destroy a career. look at americas donald young. an amazing junior career but now has taken a couple of years building up through the futures and challengers.

    in my opinion there is still so much the lta need to do to improve the image of tennis and make it more accessible. for example as a nation we dazzle in how amazing wimbledon is, and yes it is a great spectacle, buut!

    the image of most sports now in britain is that there all becoming to british. look at the difference in all the slams in tennis, wimbledon is the only mega event that when the likes of federer plays nadal the only noise is clapping? am sorry but whats wrong with noise? atmosphere is what makes events stand out. if you can mix any two togethor it would have to be wimbledon and the aussie. passionate fans plus a historic event makes for a strong legacy and can inspire both future players but also future fans! Davis cup too, did anyone see france spain in madrid? what an atmosphere!! why cant we have that for our davis cup? does it come down to the quality of the product? the quality of the reputation? the standard of opposition? Yes to them all, okay we have won promotion so the opposition will increase in difficulty but the reputation outside wimbledon and queens aint much.

    more people should follow the lead of the atmosphere and chants set my the guys and girls from stirling uni. thasts how its done. The players feed off the passion of the crowd. we as brits should stop with the nicy nicy and allow ourselves to let go. and enjoy, shout and support!

  • Comment number 10.

    Its promising, but then so were Jamie Delgado, Martin Lee, Miles Kasiri etc as juniors. I guess the sheer volume of players this time gives us more hope - but the LTA has hardly given us much reason for optimism over the years. Question is, is this current number of 15-18 year olds unusual in global terms, or do France, Spain and Australia etc have the same number or more?

  • Comment number 11.

    Spaced
    While what you say about Jamie Delgado etc is true, and the LTA has overseen more false dawns than any other organisation in the world, the success that this group of young players is having (3 of 4 USO semi finalists, Junior Davis Cup) suggests that as a group we have more good players than our possible competitors.

    Certainly some reasons for optimism, especially because it is a group who all seem to be at similar levels and so could potentially challenge each other and spur each other on to improvements. At the very least, it shouldn't be that long before we've got more than one man making ATP main event draws by right.

  • Comment number 12.

    I would suggest if any of these lads made it as consistent top 100/50 players, that would be a success compared where we have been for the last 10 years relying on one or two exceptional performers with nothing else behind it.

  • Comment number 13.

    Leon Smith should be inviting all these young guys to every Davis cup match for the next year or two as they will be playing in them soon. It will also help their development if they are used as hitting partners with Andy Murray. Lets hope they come through and aspire to be as good or better than Andy.

  • Comment number 14.

    I got really interested in tennis when I was about 11, It was watching Rusedski get to the US Open final against Pat Rafter caught me. Since then I ahve followed tennis immensely at the top level, but what I want to ask, is how many current pros on tour habve been a junior no1 or won the junior davis cup? How many ex junior no1's go on and do it professionally. I read when Dolgopolov played Murray that they were regularly competing against one another in the juniors and that Dolgopolov was the better player, look how its turned now, Murray consistently top4 for last 2 years and Dolgopolov just starting to break the top20

  • Comment number 15.

    @8,

    Yeah, Nadal beat Ramon Delgado (in straight sets) when Nadal was 15 years old. Only a few years before that, Delgado had beaten Sampras at Roland Garros.

    Mind you, as I recall Richard Gasquet was a more promising 15-year-old than Nadal.

  • Comment number 16.

    Actually, it looks like there wasn't much between Nadal and Gasquet at that age.

    Gasquet beat Franco Squillari in Monte Carlo. Two years prior to that, Squillari had been in the semi-finals of Roland Garros.

    A month before Gasquet's 16th birthday, he won the opening set against Albert Costa at Roland Garros. Costa went on to win the tournament.

  • Comment number 17.

    Isn't it great to see Scotland's No1 win his 19th title?

    As for the new young hopefulls, let's hope the LTA don't make another monumental bawzup. Scotland's No1 didn't give that mob a wide berth for nothing!

  • Comment number 18.

    It would be great if this was the beginning of new era for British tennis - time will tell.

    Andy Murray is angling for the No 3 spot - winning tournaments the big 3 have not entered. Ironic given the outcry over too much tennis being played -still it proves he is best of the rest.

  • Comment number 19.

    It's been a couple of hours or so since Scotland's No1 beat Marcos Bagdhatis in Tokyo and still nae report on the 'EBC'.

    Can Overends get his finger oot pronto?

  • Comment number 20.

    Eventually it turns up, but short, dire and hardly worth a read!

 

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