Agassi the role model is wearing thin

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The Independent Online
AT LAST, someone has thought of a new reason why we don't breed world-class tennis stars within these shores. According to one of Britain's leading tennis coaches, an explanation for our inability to produce players in the mould of Andre Agassi is that our clubs are too fussy about dress and if enthusiastic youngsters turned up to play clothed in the manner of their American hero they'd be flung out.

Quite right, too, I would have thought, but Alan Jones, the top coach who numbered Jo Durie among his charges, maintains: "The archaic attitude of our clubs is a huge problem. Agassi, the most marketable and charismatic figure in the game, would not be allowed to play at virtually any club in Britain. And the kids would be kicked out, too, if they wanted to wear the same clothes as him. How are we going to get our kids playing in droves if they can't emulate their hero?"

Many will want to give that question serious consideration in case a snap answer should offend but, in fairness to Jones, he uttered these words before Boris Becker did the business on Agassi in the semi- final at Wimbledon. Perhaps the kids changed their allegiance to Becker or Pete Sampras after last Sunday's final and have been turning up at their local clubs wearing a five-day growth of red bristles or a vacant expression, depending on which finalist they preferred.

We have to admit that Agassi does have this strange power to beguile his audience. It is likely, however, that this power would not be seriously diminished if his dress owed more to the traditions and requirements of the game rather than the forward-planning department of the Nike sportswear company who are paying millions of dollars for the right to dress him up.

We all have to live with these commercial imperatives but it would be very disappointing if the only inspiration our youngsters received from watching Agassi's undoubted artistry was the desire to acquire a junior transvestite kit. Agassi's Wimbledon ensemble was, apparently, much less of a colourful rage than the gear he wore in the Australian Open and, at least, he conformed to Wimbledon's rule of predominately white clothing. But he could have won any fancy-dress competition as a Victorian "tweeny" maid and we surely don't want our young tennis hopefuls to look as if they're on their way to blacken a 'grate in Belgravia.

Becker, to whom we warm more with each passing day, mounted his own attack on Agassi last week. Much of it concerned an unconvincing allegation that Agassi was granted more Centre Court appearances at Wimbledon because of pressure from his sponsor. He added that the American didn't mix and had little in common with other players. As for his clothing, Becker said: "I wouldn't want my son wearing the things Agassi does."

Alan Jones will know much more than most about the gap in class over which our young players find it so difficult to leap and would have suffered more frustration than us casual onlookers at these long, lean years of our inadequacies in the game. But to suggest that the clubs should shoulder a large part of the blame because of their dress regulations is taking the search for an answer to ludicrous lengths.

Our failure to produce top tennis players goes back to long before the game became a branch of the men's fashion industry. In the days when adventurous tennis kit didn't get much further than Gorgeous Gussie's knickers our supply of homespun talent was already drying up, and if the role-modelling done in crisp white shirts and neatly pressed shorts by the likes of Rod Laver, Lew Hoad and our own Roger Taylor didn't persuade the little buggers to get a grip of their rackets I can't see how more garish garb is going to work.

Besides, it is not for the clubs to take over the responsibility for supplying stars. They would surely be delighted to produce dozens but clubs have many other duties, not least to their members and to the requirements of maintaining good facilities and staying in existence in these hard times. Most well-run clubs find it essential to have rules and regulations that operate to the general benefit of all their members. A dress code forms just part of the discipline both on and off the court that it is vital to maintain.

Yet few, if any, tennis clubs are as strict as golf clubs in all matters of dress, deportment and behaviour, and I am sure there's no need to list the number of world-class golfers Britain has produced during the time in which tennis has been vainly rooting around for a semblance of one. It is also worth pointing out that in golf these disciplines apply from the lowliest club to the highest levels of competition in the world. The sportsmanship and self-control evident at this week's Open can be seen on any old fairway.

Compare this with the example Wimbledon sets after years of failing to instil discipline in dress, behaviour or fair-play. To ask the clubs to go Wimbledon's way and to encourage the unruly, the untidy and the downright rebellious is to request self-destruction.

If the only lure to youngsters that tennis can come up with is to tempt them with the opportunity to dress in a manner that few genuine sportsmen and women would find appealing, perhaps the game has gone further than we think. Or perhaps they've fallen for the marketing blitz and have forgotten that the way Agassi looks is a totally false indication of the skill and hard work it took to make him a great player.

To suggest that if you dress like him you'll play like him is not the sort of message the game ought to be issuing to the young. More likely, if you dress like Agassi you'll end up playing like the way he looks.

WALES is nothing if not a plucky nation. Having suffered humiliation in rugby and soccer, they are now tackling a sporting area in which they have little tradition and in which their neighbours have at least 100 years' start. I refer to golfing tourism out of which Scotland and Ireland have created big industries.

Tired of their courses being overlooked by all but the most discerning of golfers, the Wales Tourist Board are mounting a promotion to take full advantage of the presence of the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl in September. And they are carrying the fight into the heart of rival territory - for the first time ever they had a display stand at the Irish Open and will be pitching for business during the Open itself at St Andrews this week.

The cheeky campaign is backed up by a lavishly illustrated book containing details of all 161 courses in Wales and featuring the best 25 chosen by the author who just happens to be me. That Wales has so many excellent courses in beautiful surroundings was as big a surprise to me as it is to many of my countrymen. But, then, modesty has always been a problem with us.

The best thing I can say about the book is that it is free and if you write to me at the Independent on Sunday sports desk, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, I'll see you'll get one.

DISTRESSING news of a hitherto unreported hitch in the wedding of Imran Khan and Jemima Goldsmith. Although most of the ceremonials were seen by the world there was a private moment when the bride approached the place of betrothal whereupon her beautiful dress disintegrated and dropped to a heap. Anguished relatives were further shocked when they discovered the reason. Imran had picked the seam.