Tennis

Does British tennis deserve to keep its funding?

Watson & Robson must inspire kids to play tennis. (©GettyImages)
Watson & Robson must inspire kids to play tennis. (©GettyImages).

For all those passing tennis fans about to be lured in by the fantastic spectacle that is Wimbledon, it is worth considering that the sport is not as strong as some may have you believe. 

Indeed, Sport England has warned the Lawn Tennis Association it faces a critical summer that will dictate whether or not it is stripped of valuable funding. 

In December of last year, Sport England decided to reduce its tennis funding from £24.5m to £17.4m for the next four-year cycle up to 2017, amid concerns the LTA was not making best use of the cash. 

Now, that funding could be set to fall yet further, unless numerous elements of British tennis can make improvements this summer. 

Here's a quick look at why funding should, and shouldn't stay:

Five reasons to back tennis:

Andy Murray

Arguably the greatest ever male British player to play the game. Not only is he the world number two, the reigning US Open champion and an Olympic gold medallist, he is also the only British male to win a Grand Slam singles championship during the Open Era. 

With 27 career titles, a career win percentage of 76 and some of the best return play tennis has ever seen, the 26 year-old Scot will reach legendary status if he can finally snag his maiden Wimbledon success. 

He is unfortunate, in many ways, that he is playing at the same time as three of the greatest stars the sport has ever seen: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - but the trio have pushed Murray to reach new heights, to strive to be even better, and Murray definitely warrants his place amongst the game's "big four".

Rising female stars

Laura Robson and Heather Watson represent a new generation of female British tennis players. Robson, 19, has appeared at least once in the main draw of every Grand Slam, with her biggest success coming at the 2012 US Open, where she made the fourth round - defeating major winners Kim Clijsters and Li Na on route. 

In doing so, she became the first British woman since Samantha Smith at Wimbledon in 1998 to reach the fourth round of a major tournament. At the 2012 Guangzhou Women's Open, Robson became the first British woman since Jo Durie, in 1990, to reach a WTA main-tour final. 

She was named WTA Newcomer of the Year for 2012 and won Olympic mixed doubles silver with Andy Murray. Watson, 21, went one better in October 2012, becoming the first British female to win a WTA singles title since Sara Gomer in 1988, beating Chang Kai-chen of Taiwan in the final of the Japan Open.

Olympic success

As already alluded to, even the British tennis players got caught up in the thrill and excitement of the London Olympic Games. Playing prior to his US Open win, Murray dropped just one set on his way to the Olympic final with Federer and, despite the Swiss being firm favourite, dispatched him in straight sets for the loss of just seven games. 

Murray's victory came just weeks after losing the Wimbledon final on the same court to the same player, and the win was certainly a contributing factor to his success in America later in the year. By winning gold, Murray became the first British man to win the Olympic singles gold medal in tennis since Josiah Ritchie in 1908, and only the seventh man in the open era to win two medals at the same Olympic Games: he and Robson losing out narrowly in the mixed doubles final to Belarusian top seeds Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi. 

Wimbledon

The Wimbledon Championships is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, and is widely considered the most prestigious. It has been held at the All England Club in London since 1877 and is the only one of the four grand slam tournaments played on grass. So many great moments have happened at the historic venue down the years, and British presence is a vital part of that, emphasised by last year's surprise doubles win for Jonathan Marray and his Danish partner Frederik Nielsen. A loss of funding would endanger this and risks causing a loss of interest in the tournament.

History & tradition

Wimbledon is just a small part of Britain's proud history in and around the sport of tennis. The modern game of tennis originated in Birmingham in the late 19th century. Between 1859 and 1865 Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera developed a game that combined elements of rackets and the Basque ball game pelota, which they played on Perera's croquet lawn. 

In 1872, along with two local doctors, they founded the world's first tennis club in Leamington Spa. Mistakes may have been made in the 141 years of British tennis since then, but to endanger that history would be cruel. The sport needs to be reinvented and made more accessible to new members in order to attract new players, not cut back and minimised.  

Five reasons to ditch tennis:

Lack of depth

There is a worrying lack of depth in the British game, and the truth is that there is simply not enough good players produced to warrant such heavy funding. 

James Ward is currently the second highest ranked British male behind Andy Murray, placing at number 216. Compare this to Murray's fellow members of the "big four", who will all have compatriots seeded at Wimbledon: Federer will have Stanislas Wawrinka (11), Djokovic will have Janko Tipsarevic (14), and Nadal will have David Ferrer (seeded higher than him at four), Nicolas Almagro (15) and Tommy Robredo (32). 

According to a report by Tennis Europe, Spain has 4.8m players, only 400,000 more than Britain, while Switzerland and Serbia have far less - so why are we not producing more players that can compete at the major events? 

At the French Open, Murray's absence through injury exposed this fact as no British man contested the main draw for the first time since 1994. In the women's event, Britain's three entries won just one set between them. 

Outclassed 

Tennis Europe's 2012-13 report also shows that, despite similar populations, France has three times more clubs than Britain, 11,000 more courts, five times the number of indoor courts and 7,000 more coaches. 

France can also lay claim to 132 ATP and 58 WTA ranked players, with 19 men and 11 women in the top 200, although its wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion now stands at 30 years. Spain has 1,500 fewer clubs than Britain and a quarter of the courts, but 16,500 more coaches. It also has 92 ATP and 32 WTA players - 19 men and eight women in the top 200 - plus plenty of Grand Slam winners.

Davis Cup failure 

'Team GB' have been humiliated in the Davis Cup in recent years. They are the third most successful team in terms of championships won with nine (tied with France), but have appeared in only one final in 76 years, and have not won the competition since 1936. 

In recent years they have had to content themselves with flitting around the lower divisions of the competition, playing against the likes of Luxembourg, Tunisia and Belgium, who thrashed the Brits 4-1 in 2012. 

The issue again lies in a lack of depth in the squad. Without Andy Murray in the team, they are always likely to struggle, and with the Scot's schedule already so packed his presence is more of a surprise than his absence. 

Criticism of tennis "personalities" 

In a recent interview with L'Equipe, Latvian tennis star Ernests Gulbis claimed that the player's at the top of the game were boring, with the lack of characters causing a lack of interest in tennis itself. 

He said: "I respect Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic] and [Andy] Murray but all four are boring players. Their interviews are boring, they are rubbish. It's a joke." 

While his accusations were put across in a far from elegant manner and his claims were quickly laughed off, he may have had a point. Tennis lacks a controversial star to attract the limelight, a bad boy, someone people can love to hate. In football you have your Mario Balotelli's and your Joey Barton's, in snooker you have Ronnie O'Sullivan, tennis no longer has its John McEnroe. Instead, we have four incredible, unbelievably good, clean-cut, honest individuals at the top of the game. You might think that's a good thing. You might be right. But for the passing sports fan with only a faint interest in tennis, you need something that will grab their attention. Which will, in turn, attract more people into trying the game for themselves.

Struggles at grassroots level     

This is the core of the problem, and the prime reason why British tennis risks losing it's generous financial benefits. The stats speak for themselves: the latest survey conducted by Sport England showed that 424,300 people aged 16 and over played tennis once a week from April 2012 to April 2013, down 4.7% on the data recorded from October 2011 to October 2012. 

Currently, the LTA has a £60m turnover, a £40m National Tennis Centre and an outgoing chief executive earning £640,000. There are 4,118 places to play tennis in England, Scotland and Wales, including 97 performance centres, 21,186 courts (1,645 of which are indoor) and 3,904 registered or licensed coaches, yet just one man and four women from Britain are in the world's top 200. 

Former British number one Henman told BBC Sport: "If you look at Spain and France, the base of their pyramid is vast compared to the British system. They have so many kids playing. You need massive investment at the bottom and strong leadership from the top. 

"I left the junior game in 1992. Think about the millions invested since then. It's frightening. We've got better facilities and tournament structure, but in the end you're interested in producing top players and we haven't done that. I'm fed up with asking people to be patient."

"Kids have to compete more regularly," added Elena Baltacha, Britain's leading female tennis player for much of the last decade. "The more we get competing, the higher the quality is going to be. Then a filter begins to emerge and the strongest will survive."

Conclusion

The LTA points to a promising future after Britain won the Junior Davis Cup for the first time in 2011. There have been other notable performances from British youngsters, too, with Kyle Edmund winning the boys' doubles at this year's French Open. 

They also highlight its vast Talent ID programme and claim that 58,000 juniors compete in six or more matches a year, with 17,000 playing 20 or more. But such a promising future can not be realised without appropriate backing.

Is this enough? Where does tennis rank amongst popular sports to watch, play and compete in for the British people... is the success of one of two enough to vindicate millions of pounds of investment, or would that be better saved and spent elsewhere?

Feel free to leave your comments below!  


Write for GiveMeSport! Sign-up to the GMS Writing Academy here: http://bit.ly/12evFlH

DISCLAIMER: This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of GiveMeSport.com or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. GiveMeSport.com and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Topics:
Wimbledon
Laura Robson
Heather Watson
Andy Murray
Tennis

Article Comments

Trending

Read more