zone group

THE CONTINUED MESS WITH BRITISH TENNIS

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for British tennis, they do. In fact the situation has become so comical even the genius minds of the Monty Python crew would have been hard-pressed to come up with this.

Carry On Tennis, it should be called.

“Great Britain suffer humiliating Davis Cup defeat” scream the BBC.

“Dan Evans defeat brings fresh Davis Cup despair for Britain” moans The Guardian.

Yes, it is that time again. Very much like the hangover of all hangovers, that sinking feeling when the words “Great Britain” and “Davis Cup tie” have been the main event of the weekend is slamming around our skulls like the feeling of dread at a week ahead of working 15-hour shifts shoveling doggy doodoos.

Which great tennis nation have we lost to this time? Oh the mighty….Lithuania?!

Yes, a nation with only three world-ranked tennis players. A team of teenagers running around pumping the air celebrating the greatest victory in their history like they had just brought world peace.

The Lithuanian Tennis Association has an annual budget of £95,000 compared to the £25,000,000 continually squandered by the Lawn Tennis Association. After all, there are only 173 players our Lithuanian counterparts have to cater for.

You get the picture. David has once more cast his stone and Goliath has hit the deck quicker than Cristiano Ronaldo in a gust of wind.

You will all have read the doom and gloom stories about the matches and I would rather not subject any Brits reading this to any more of those. But what of the fallout?

LTA Chief Executive Roger Draper claimed in the 2009 Tennis Annual produced by the association that he had enjoyed the progress of British tennis over the past three years. This supposed progress has seen our national side drop through the tiers like an elephant strapped to a boulder in the Pacific Ocean.

Now we must face Turkey, who lost to Ireland, in a relegation playoff to avoid sinking to the Europe/Africa Zone Group III in July – the lowest tier of the competition.

Captain John Lloyd has now become the first British Davis Cup captain EVER to oversee five successive defeats. He has said he is “devastated” by the defeat.

“They don’t have as many players to pick from as we do but their players are good,” Lloyd told the BBC.

“We obviously didn’t have our number one playing, and that was certainly an evening-out point. It was a 50/50 sort of match before the start, and they were the better team.”

Woah, woah, woah. What you are saying Mr. Lloyd is that even with Andy Murray playing a nation such as ourselves is only just better than Lithuania and without him we are only as good as a side whose top player is ranked 195 in the ATP World rankings. Lord help us.

Mr. Draper has released a statement on the defeat:

“I share the deep disappointment and frustration at this result. Five defeats in a row is unacceptable.

“So I have asked the LTA Player Director, Steven Martens, to review last week’s performance and result, and report back to me and the LTA Main Board as soon as possible.

That review needs to be swift and decisive as it is clear some real improvements need to be made.”

That’s not even edited. That is the entire statement.

Fingers, though, are already being pointed. Former captain David Lloyd (brother of John) has demanded Draper step down to allow British tennis to recover. Draper’s decision to encourage British No. 1 Andy Murray not to compete in such a lowly tier was a particular stickler for Lloyd.

“”Roger is wrong endorsing the fact that Andy shouldn’t have played. That was a bad call,” he seethed in an interview with the BBC. “I would try and encourage him to play and give something back to the game.

“Where are the male players that the LTA has actually produced? Zero. That’s the bottom line. How do you keep your job if you are failing? I think Roger should walk. I don’t see it getting better.”

“He has missed every target he’s ever set,” added Andy Murray’s former coach Mark Petchey in an interview with Sky Sports News.

“What’s happened with the Davis Cup proves he’s wrong. His import of high-price foreign coaches, Brad Gilbert etc, has failed. The people at the LTA can’t sit on their hands and do nothing. They have to say ‘Your vision of the sport was wrong and you need to go.’”

But how can British tennis improve? Would culling the top man bring an improvement in fortunes? Well, Petchey certainly had ideas about how things could be changed for the better.

“The moment that we built the National Tennis Centre I feared for British tennis in a big way. What we needed right then was 30 centres around the country to get a catchment area from every region, every county.

“If you’re playing in Scotland for example, trying to get to a tennis centre with decent courts etc. is impossible. This money needs to be invested around the country, it’s that simple.”

That simple, eh? Fancy a new job as Chief Executive at the LTA Mr. Petchey?

IS MURRAY GETTING TOO BIG FOR HIS BOOTS?

By Melina Harris

Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticizing the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder. His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.

Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organizers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behavior. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’

Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.

Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’

In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250,000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sports journalist almost walked out in protest.

Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?

In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council, thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.

Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semifinals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the world No. 4.

Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organizers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.

It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).

Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?

It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at No. 5 in the ATP world rankings.

Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter.   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.