Lloyd ready to call shots in tough job

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The Independent Online
A letter to the Lawn Tennis Association from the United States National Lawn Tennis Association at the turn of the century, telling of Dwight Davis's offer of an international challenge cup, concluded: "It might do a great deal for the game here, and possibly even with you it might be a help.''

In common with many great sporting events, the Davis Cup has left Britain far behind. Winners of the premier men's team trophy for the ninth and last time in 1936, the nation must succeed in a relegation play-off against Monaco at Eastbourne in July to avoid dropping to the lowest point possible, Group III of the Euro/African Zone. After that, we might have to settle for Euro Disney.

Britain last appeared in the final in 1978, having defeated Monaco 5- 0 in the first round. David Lloyd partnered his brother, John, in the doubles. The Lloyds, David as the new captain and John the coach, are about to undertake the dredging operation.

The last time Britain won a tie was in 1991, when a victory against Austria on grass in Manchester elevated the team back to the lite World Group of 16 nations. Mark Petchey defeated the Austrian No 1, Thomas Muster, who on Sunday triumphed over Boris Becker to win the Monte Carlo Open, emphasising his expertise on slow clay courts.

Six consecutive defeats have left Britain floundering. The team, captained by Tony Pickard, performed creditably though losing to France, the holders (Henri Leconte and Guy Forget) on a fast indoor court in Bayonne, and was then beaten on grass in India and slithered on clay in Hungary and Portugal.

Bill Knight stepped in for two matches as captain after Pickard's acrimonious departure following the match in Oporto. Jeremy Bates and Petchey failed to avoid demotion to Group II of the Euro/African Zone in a play-off against Romania on grass in Manchester last July, and two spirited 20-year-olds, Tim Henman and Miles Maclagan, along with Neil Broad, a doubles specialist, were unable to avert a 5-0 in the Slovak Republic last weekend.

David Lloyd was there in Bratislava, wearing a Great Britain tracksuit, helping with the team's preparations and watching good intentions come to nothing.

As was the case with his predecessors, Knight, Pickard, Warren Jacques and Paul Hutchins, Lloyd does not have much talent to work with, and no one has criticised the Lawn Tennis Association more for the embarrassing state of the sport in Britain.

What Lloyd does have is abundant confidence, the security of a business empire comprising 11 tennis centres, and a strong desire to prove that he has the drive and intiative to change the course of the British game.

While not wishing to suggest that he is mellowing already under the influence of his new employers, the former rebel made an interesting comment after a lengthy conversation with Richard Lewis, the LTA's director of national training. "Richard was asking a lot of questions about how we do this, and why we do that, and suddenly a barrier has been lifted," he said.

Lloyd's success has an entrepreneur intrigues the LTA, whose own indoor tennis initiative finally addressed problems caused by the shortage of facilities.

"There's an enormous cross-reference on the business side of building clubs and running clubs," Lloyd said. "When you risk your own money on building centres you actually do watch your pennies very much more closely, and therefore you do learn a lot more.

"The two reasons why I took the job in December was one, I do honestly believe I can do a good job, and two, I do honestly believe the LTA have started to look at a much more professional structure.

"You've got to do two things, I think, to give us the best chance. You've got to obviously try to get a role model, but that might not happen. And at the same time you've got to work on improving all the facilities, making the game more accessible to all the people out there, somehow getting people off the streets playing free of charge. And if you run the two in tandem, with a bit of luck you might make it. But you can't rely on the fact that a role model might appear."

David Lloyd is an impressive character, and he is not the first to put his faith in hard work and providence. "The most important ingredient in anything is luck. You need things to go for you at the right time. We need to win this match easy, and get a good draw and a couple of good home matches."