British Tennis With No Advantage

For two weeks of the year, all eyes lay on SW19 where arguably the most prestigious tournament in the world attracts a spectacle of exceptional tennis. Murray ended a 77 year long wait to crown a British Men’s Champion in what was anticipated as a catalyst for the take-off of tennis in the nation. But the tennis buzz in the UK lasted about as long as the fizz of the champagne. This was acknowledged by Sport England when their reports showed a decline in participation figures from 423,400 in April 2013 to 400,600 in October 2013.

Tim Henman Wimbledon

Tim Henman (2005)
Rights; Spiralz

In 2013, Sport England committed £17.4 million to the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the national governing body for tennis, as part of a four year investment. This staggering amount of money is all too familiar to the LTA, who paid the previous CEO, Roger Draper, an annual salary of £640,000 up until last year when the chronic underachiever eventually stepped down. The man did virtually nothing for British tennis for seven years and was getting paid a ludicrous amount to do so. Although he attempted, he could not claim responsibility for the successes of Andy Murray, Laura Robson or even Heather Watson who had all developed their tennis outside of the UK.

With all this money flooding in to British tennis, one must question why there have been no results, especially when compared to other nations. The US currently has twelve women and seven men in the top 100, whereas the UK is limited to Murray, Robson and Watson. A major difference between the two developed countries is where the money is allocated. There is a large focus of money put in to the US schools ensuring that at a young age everyone has been exposed to the sport and has the opportunity to pursue it in some form. However, on this side of the pond, there is little chance of tennis being on the curriculum at school unless it is a private one. This is obviously a problem with regards to the accessibility of the sport. The families who can afford the sport are getting the opportunities that should be available to all and quite frankly it is those who have come from humble beginnings that have had the most success in the game.

The LTA should follow the lead of British cycling who doubled their membership from 2008 to 2012 to 50,000, whilst Sport England’s latest participation survey suggests nearly two million people cycle at least once a week. The sport has gone from strength to strength with an accumulation of eight gold medals at the 2012 Olympics. The success of the sport has resulted from a deliberate plan by head coach Peter Keen who aimed to modernize the perception of cycling to appeal to the masses. With the appointment of the current head of British Tennis Michael Downey at the start of this year, only time will tell whether he can truly make Britain great again.

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Sophie Nelson

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On the women's tennis team at NC State University in the US. When I'm not chasing a yellow fuzzy ball, I'm writing about it!