A case of courting the perfect partner

David Lloyd was a good tennis player, but he never landed a winning cheque like the one that looked to be heading his way yesterday.

Assuming the deal with Whitbread goes through, Mr Lloyd will net pounds 21m from the sale of his shares and the cashing in of his options. This dwarfs even the pounds 13m of career winnings earned by Martina Navratilova, the most financially successful tennis player.

Now 47, Mr Lloyd still possesses boyish looks and an Andre Agassi-style pigeon-toed walk. He is not a big spender and lives modestly, but does drive a Ferrari.

Golf is his other passion and the Whitbread deal was hatched on a golf course during a round with Whitbread's leisure director, David Thomas, six months ago.

"He sounded me out over a game and asked me whether it was something I might consider. You always think, 'Is it the right decision?' but you've got to think of the staff and the shareholders. I'm really looking forward to it."

The prospect of a high-flying career inside a pounds 3bn corporation like Whitbread is a long way from the tennis courts where Mr Lloyd first made his mark. After leaving school with two O levels, he became junior Wimbledon champion in 1965. He reached the mens' doubles semi-final at Wimbledon in 1973.

The first David Lloyd club opened in 1980. A second was opened in Croydon in 1984 but the partnership did not work and Mr Lloyd pulled out.

The company floated on the stock exchange in 1993 and has been growing rapidly ever since. Last year, it made profits of pounds 7.6m on sales of pounds 25m.

In April, Mr Lloyd was appointed captain of the British Davis Cup team.

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