Wimbledon helps LTA to put its faith in youth potential

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The Independent Online

Wimbledon's latest donation to the Lawn Tennis Association - £31.136m in profits from this year's championships, taking the total for the past five years to £150m - was announced at the National Championships here yesterday, leading to the topic of Childs play: the play of children and the play of Lee Childs.

Wimbledon's latest donation to the Lawn Tennis Association - £31.136m in profits from this year's championships, taking the total for the past five years to £150m - was announced at the National Championships here yesterday, leading to the topic of Childs play: the play of children and the play of Lee Childs.

The LTA is to spend £1m setting up 25 tennis clubs in inner city parks, linked to local schools, in six major cities. The project, championed by Tim Henman, the British No 1, and Roger Taylor, the Davis Cup captain, who learnt to play on park courts in Sheffield, will include "Kids Zones" supervised by full-time coaches.

This is only a fraction of the amount being invested in LTA development programmes designed to secure a less embarrassing future for the British game. The current plight was underlined by the Davis Cup defeat by Ecuador in a World Group relegation tie at the All England Club last July. As John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive, said: "The loss of the Davis Cup tie has helped to focus everyone's attention."

Lee Childs' attention yesterday was focused on reaching the men's singles semi-finals, which he achieved by beating Martin Lee, once regarded as a likely lad, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Childs, an 18-year-old from Somerset, is one of the few candidates who may eventually lighten the load of Henman and Greg Rusedski.

But for the LTA's support, Childs may have joined the Army ("I fancied the Marines"). While grateful for the financial assistance that enables him to see the world by playing tournaments that should serve to hasten his transition from junior to senior level, Childs does not let it burden him with guilt.

"I'm not from a wealthy family," he said. "There's no way I could afford to travel round the world. But if I want to be the best, I've got to work for it. I'm not playing for the LTA, I'm playing for myself. They're not pressurising me."

Childs, the sixth seed, will today meet the 24-year-old Luke Milligan, of Middlesex, for a place in the final. Milligan, who eliminated Jamie Delgado, the defending champion, in the second round, yesterday defeated Norfolk's James Auckland, 6-2, 6-2.

The other men's semi-final is between Mark Hilton, of Cheshire, who had a walkover (his opponent, Richard Bloomfield, of Norwich, had a stomach upset) and Nick Weal, of Hampshire, who defeated Lancashire's Barry Cowan, the second seed, 6-4, 6-4.

Tomorrow's women's final will be between Lorna Woodroffe, of Surrey, the fourth seed, and Julie Pullin, the second seed. In yesterday's semi-finals, Woodroffe beat Louise Latimer, the No 1 seed, 7-6, 6-2, and Pullin defeated the 17-year-old Elena Baltacha, 7-6, 7-6.

The future of the National Championships is in the balance. Patrice Hagelauer, the LTA's performance director, would like the event scaled down and the £165,000 spent on running it to be used instead on additional ATP Tour or WTA Tour Challenger tournaments.

Hagelauer said: "The majority [of players] would like to be playing international tournaments but don't go because of the Nationals. The better the players are, the less interested they are in the Nationals."

Crowther added: "Patrice and I will sit down at the end of the championships and make a decision that we feel in the interests of British tennis."

* Andre Agassi, the No 2 seed, defeated Karol Kucera in straight sets yesterday to secure his place in the semi-finals of the Lyon Grand Prix. Taking advantage of Kucera's erratic serve, the American advanced to the last four with a 6-1, 7-5 victory over the struggling Slovak, who committed 11 double-faults.

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