All we need is another 10 years ...

Yes, apparently, time is all we require to lift the great British tennis racket out of the mire of ignominious defeat, not to mention losing to Slovakia.

Once, in the Seventies, when all rackets were wood, and the ball used to hang in the air for several days, we used to be good at this lark. British people used to reach finals of tennis tournaments.

Then the world moved on, men wore patterned shorts on Centre Court and found it impossible to return service, even with graphite, and Swedes and Germans and people called Yannick began lifting silver like it belonged to them. So we invested some money on new facilities, and Buster Mottram visited a few schools to tell pupils in Arsenal shirts how he almost won something, and the virile message from British tennis was that we'd be back.

Over the weekend our Davis Cup team lost to the Slovak Republic. Call the Lawn Tennis Association and a helpful spokesman called Johnny Perkins explains that we were never really expected to win that one anyway, because those Slovaks are pretty mean these days, and it was on clay, and we had young and inexperienced players, and we were playing away. "In fact," he says, "I think we performed creditably."

Once, this would have been a day of national mourning - Tim and Neil defeated by Jan and Karol. Now we fly home with smiles and say phew, we were creditable, but those blokes are hot! In July, we play Monaco. If we lose that one, our team will be relegated to Group III of the Euro/African zone in which we may lose to players from Moldova and Benin.

In place of victory we have a looped video running at Olympus Sport shops. This is an LTA initiative, one of many designed to produce, in its own words, "if not a champion, then at least someone who can get into the top 50". On the tape, the viewer is invited to hit it, and sees shots of Andre and Boris punching the air in delight. The idea is to show the very coolness of the sport, to suggest that your friends will not laugh at you if you pick up a racket (or ideally buy a racket from Olympus Sport).

There is also the chance to win tickets to Wimbledon. Wimbledon, that strange fortnight that brings out both the best in us (organisation) and the worst (taking part), is less than eight weeks away. The courts will be as full during the tournament as they always are when we will dig out our old Maxply Forts - and then most of us will fail to live up to our own expectations, and lay down our old rackets for another good warping under the stairs.

Perhaps we just have the wrong attitude. Life would be easier if we could view Wimbledon as an international celebration of the game. Britain has about 2 per cent of the world's players (and now 121 countries play tennis, not only the 12 or so that competed when Fred Perry reigned). Last year, two of our players reached the last 16, as many as the Germans. This should be seen as a great result. But why should we do well just because we host the most prestigious tournament in the world and provide soft fruit? It's not as though we have a divine right.

But if we do take patriotism to heart, we should ask why we are still third rate, and why this is so after years of investment and fighting talk.

In 1992, the LTA announced a £63m, five-year plan to correct most of the familiar malaises, all the familiar excuses. There is the class thing: tennis is too often perceived as a middle-class pursuit played lazily by those with high cholesterol. Tennis is not a street sport: there are not enough well-maintained public courts; when new faces join, they are not welcomed; when they seek coaching, the coaches are often poor motivators. And when you want to play, you can't because it's raining.

Anyway, most kids would rather be Norman Bates than Jeremy Bates: Ryan Giggs and Sally Gunnell are role models, winners; why should anyone want to copy someone who always goes out in the third round? And if we do find someone young and talented, parents sell everything to jet them to Florida and take them to every LTA tournament, where inevitably they burn out. One can't help feeling it's not like that in Gothenburg, where a young talent is not treated like a freak.

But things have improved significantly in the past few years. Not the players, perhaps, but at least the infrastructure. "We thought we had it made in the Seventies," Johnny Perkins says. He mentions Virginia Wade, Mark Cox, Roger Taylor, Sue Barker. "We thought things would carry on."

The Indoor Tennis Initiative that began in 1986 has produced 35 public access pay-and-play centres, many in the north, the last of which opened in Glasgow in April. And in 1992 the LTA got even more serious, with a five-year plan that promised to spend £11m on the upgrading of tournament venues, £8m on training facilities, £19m on new indoor courts, and £25m on more public outdoor courts. There would be many slow clay courts, to help cure a particular weakness in our game. Proven coaches would be imported from abroad. A new environment would be created in schools. Last year, the LTA announced that another £28m would be invested from the proceeds of Wimbledon (in 1981, the proceeds were only about £400,000).

And now there is even a new saviour in the shape of David Lloyd, the man behind the hugely successful and rather expensive private tennis and leisure clubs. Until recently, Lloyd was one of the LTA's biggest critics, unhappy at the management structure which meant it took months for any committee to make a decision. This was simplified at the start of the year, and Lloyd felt encouraged enough to become our Davis Cup captain, with his brother John its coach.

Like the LTA, the Lloyds are optimistic; to hear them tell it, these new developments are the best news since AT Myers first served overarm. Someone even mentioned lottery money...

So why do we still do badly? It's time, you see. We just have to be patient. The Germans began their grand tennis schemes 20 years ago, the Swedes likewise. "Our eyes are open; the issues have been addressed," says Mark Cox, the former player and BBC commentator. Cox says that our 14-and-under boys team and 16-and-under girls recently reached the finals of important European and American competitions. So in 10 years we'll be better? Absolutely. In 10 years, we'll be beating the best Slovaks in the world.

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

    £40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

    Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

    Design Technology Teacher

    £22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

    Foundation Teacher

    £100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes