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Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 15:03 UK

Crisis - what crisis?

By Marc Vesty

Anne Keothavong
Keothavong reached the third round of the US Open in 2008

The balls are flying, the girls are grunting, Wimbledon is just over half a week old but with only two Britons making it into the second round of the singles the inquest and finger pointing has already begun.

Eleven British tennis players started the week full of hope and carrying the expectations of the Lawn Tennis Association on their shoulders.

Why then, did only Andy Murray and Elena Baltacha make it through the first round while Alex Bogdanovic, James Ward, Josh Goodall, Dan Evans, Anne Keothavong, Mel South, Katie O'Brien, Georgie Stoop and Laura Robson all fell at the first hurdle?

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe has come out and said Britain's failing tennis players should have their funding cut if their results are not good enough.

"I'm getting tired of the excuses, we need to find a way now to be successful," he said.

"Tennis gets £25m from Wimbledon, £30m from Aegon (as part of a five-year sponsorship deal) and £27m from Sport England, public money that goes into grassroots."

With those being the figures it is perhaps no surprise questions are being asked, but is there really a crisis in British tennis?

In fact almost every top British player has improved their ranking in the past year and LTA chief executive Roger Draper's target of having five British players in the top 100 is not so far from being a reality.

Draper is two years into what he calls a "seven to 10 year plan" - an overhauling of British tennis which he hopes will provide the depth which is currently lacking.

A look at the ranking stats provides a mixed story.

men's graph

When Draper joined the LTA, Britain had Greg Rusedski (40), Murray (46), Tim Henman (72) and Bogdanovic (134) in the men's top 200.

Now he has only Murray (3), Goodall (188) and Bogdanovic (191) - Murray aside, that is hardly a great return for over £50m of funding.

On the plus side the women's game seems in better health.

women's graph

When Draper took over only Keothavong was in the top 200, placed 141.

Now Keothavong (51), Baltacha (106), O'Brien (108), South (129) and Stoop (188) all occupy top 200 rankings and they are generally rising.

An area where the LTA has come in for heavy criticism is the use of wildcards to provide Britons entry into the first round draw.

One of Draper's early mission statements in 2006 was: "We want winners, not losers. We won't be handing out wildcards to players unless they have a chance of winning a round or two."

However, the decision to hand Bogdanovic, a player who had lost seven previous first-round matches, another wildcard seemed to fly against such tough talking.

Bogdanovic acknowledged it may be a privilege he will not receive again.

"That's fair enough I've had my chances unfortunately couldn't take them. Now it's just up to me to work hard and get up there by ranking," he said.


The catch-22 is surely that "getting up there by ranking" is what the 25-year-old should have been doing in the first place.

For a large number of Wimbledon followers tennis is only a focus of their attention for a fortnight each year, which may be why the disappointment is felt even more keenly when home players are knocked out.

However, Ward, who was beaten by world number eight Fernando Verdasco, played down talk of a crisis in British tennis.

"People do forget that you do play another 50 weeks of the year. They just worry about Wimbledon the two weeks, and the rest of it is as if it doesn't matter," he said.

"If you don't do well at Wimbledon, suddenly you're rubbish, and that's not the case."

Baltacha, the lone British survivor after round one of the women's singles, agrees, saying: "I think what happens is that everyone gets so over-excited during Wimbledon and you've got to look at the bigger picture. It's not about the one week, it's about the whole year."

Brits round-up

Round-up - Brits struggle on Day Two

For the LTA the emergence of junior talent appears a real reason to be optimistic.

In 2006 there were no British junior boys in the top 100 but now Alastair Barnes (74), David Thomson (81) and Ahmed El Menshawy (84) are all in that bracket.

And as for the British junior girls the news is even better, Laura Robson (2), Heather Watson (14), Hannah James (38) and Stephanie Cornish (47) are all in the top 50, a huge step up from three years ago when no girls made the top 65.

Remember the names, surely there is a future Wimbledon champion in there somewhere.

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see also
LTA threatened with funding cut
25 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Bogdanovic faces wildcard threat
24 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Murray stays cool to win opener
23 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Baltacha win lifts British gloom
23 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Six Brits lose on disastrous day
23 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Bogdanovic dumped out by Berdych
23 Jun 09 |  Tennis
O'Brien and Stoop both slip out
23 Jun 09 |  Tennis
Wimbledon: Live map
22 Jun 09 |  Tennis

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