Revelling in the success of a remarkable year would be easy. But Roger Draper’s responsibility as chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association is not just to the top of British tennis and the present, but to the roots of the game and its future too.
So Draper knows he would be betraying the British game 20 years from now if he did not harness 2012’s momentum. “We want to make sure we leave a legacy,” Draper said at the European Club Leadership Summit held at Wimbledon this week.
“So those board members in 2032 don’t think ‘what did those idiots do in 2012 when they had all those great events and great players and they didn’t actually build on that?’”
It has not always been this enjoyable. In March last year, one newspaper ran a story saying, “Lame Duck Draper Must Go”. Draper returned home that night and received an email from Sir Alex Ferguson headed, “It takes years to be an overnight success”, reminding him that Ferguson took a long time to win the league title at Manchester United and was once supposedly one game from the sack.
But this is the moment British tennis had been waiting for. “You don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘Oh, Andy Murray won the US Open, what should we do?’” Draper said.
“But if you had said to me a few years ago, if Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski or Andy Murray won Wimbledon was Britain ready, I’d have said ‘no, absolutely we’re not’.
“So the key to legacy is when you get great athletes coming through, making sure all of our 3,000 clubs, 6,000 coaches, teachers, and volunteers are ready for that moment.
“It is about being ready for key moments. There’s no point having wonderful events and great winners if our places aren’t ready, our people aren’t ready and we haven’t got our programmes in place.”
That is precisely what the LTA is now doing, hoping to take advantage of increased interest. Draper has identified groups which would be particularly keen to get more into tennis.
Mini Tennis is a new programme for under-10s and is already played by 100,000 children. The LTA is also pursuing a group of roughly 400,000 women keen on fitness, aged generally between 35 and 45, who might be bored of the gym. Cardio Tennis is already huge in the United States and there is a hope it will catch on here.
The LTA knows that too many of the clubs are inaccessible to new players. “I can’t stand here and say ‘all of our 3,000 clubs are fantastic and affordable and accessible’ because they’re not,” Draper said. “But we are now at a state of readiness where we probably got about one third of our clubs ticking all the right boxes.”
There has been a significant growth in the last year. The number of British tennis members has increased by 26 per cent to 480,000. Weekly participation is up by 18 per cent and monthly participation by 12 per cent.
Roger Draper was speaking at a meeting for heads of sports clubs from across the world held at the All England Lawn Tennis Club this week.