How hard is it for the country's young tennis hopefuls?

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
Twenty-four hours after Britain equalled its worst-ever run of defeats in international tennis, the outdoor courts at the David Lloyd Club in Enfield are busy with children - black and white, some as young as five or six. They are playing an informal game of football.

Inside the purpose-built centre, members work out in the gym or congregate by the pool or gather in the highly popular, 40-lane tenpin bowling alley. From the other side of the perimeter hedge a man with a megaphone conducts a junior athletics meeting.

Why is Britain no use in the Davis Cup? Why is the next British Wimbledon champion a figment of imagination? Part of the answer has to be that Britons are finding so many ways to exercise other than through tennis.

The Enfield centre is one of 13 bearing the name of the man who has just taken over the poisoned chalice of Britain's Davis Cup captaincy. When his first club opened at Heston 13 years ago it was given over entirely to the sport at which David Lloyd and his brother John had excelled. When he opens his next in Reading this summer, it will not have any tennis facilities. Nice gym, nice pool. No courts.

But Enfield was not entirely lacking yesterday in those willing to buck the sporting trend. Andrew Dean, a 20-year-old from Brixton, was sending down serves whose hollow thwack echoed around the walls of the four-court indoor tennis area.

As one of a five-strong group supervised by the club's head tennis professional, Francis Mackie, Dean has dedicated himself to full-time tennis in an effort to bridge the gap from being a successful junior to one who can make his way into the world rankings and, maybe, the British Davis Cup team.

Dean and his training partner David Webley, a 19-year-old from Haddenham, have gained real encouragement from the Davis Cup debuts of Miles Maclagan and Tim Henman, whom they knew in the junior ranks. "We know the standard they were then," Webley said. "There is no reason why we can't do what they have."

There are, however, reasons why Britain continues to perform underwhelmingly as a tennis nation, and not all of them are down to consumer choice. "We have the wrong type of players," Dean said. "We have middle-class or upper- class players. Most of the juniors training at Bisham Abbey have parents with a lot of money. If they don't make it in tennis it's not a problem."

Dean, as he is happy to acknowledge, is hardly the archetypal working- class kid, but he does come from Brixton and he did take part in the much vaunted initiative there six years ago to encourage inner-city tennis players. "There were some talented guys there, but they are all working now. They just didn't get the financial support."

Were it not for parental support, neither Dean nor Webley would be able to spend four hours a day, five days a week in pursuit of their ambition. With the Lawn Tennis Association directing much of its resources towards young teenage players, Dean and Webley were in danger of being written off by the national body.

Such feelings are useful for motivation, however - one of the key features for any successful player. As David Lloyd pointed out only this weekend, it is necessary to have a nasty streak.

But such ruthlessness appears conspicuously lacking within the hearts of these two aspirants.

"I don't think you need a nasty streak," Webley said. "You've got to have a great desire to win, but I think that's a bit over the top."

Time will tell.

Comments