Tennis: Britain plummet to new depths: Davis Cup captain attacks LTA's training

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The Independent Online
Britain reached their lowest point in Davis Cup history by losing to Portugal here yesterday, after which Tony Pickard delivered a scathing attack on the Lawn Tennis Association's training department and threatened to resign as captain unless his views are acted upon. 'If they do not listen, and they do not make changes, I will not stay,' he said.

The tie was decided after the first of the reverse singles, Jeremy Bates, the British No 1, losing to Nuno Marques, his Portuguese counterpart, 4-6,

6-1, 6-4, 6-0. Mark Petchey was then beaten by Emanuel Couto, 6-1, 6-2, in a 'dead' rubber to make the final score 4-1. It was Britain's fourth consecutive defeat, their worst record for 20 years.

Bobby Robson, the football coach to Porto was among the spectators. The former England manager would have loved to have seen countrymen find the net with such ease during Italia '90.

Portugal advanced to the World Group qualifying round for the first time, leaving Britain with a relegation play-off against Romania at home in July to decide who drops into Group Two of the Euro-African Zone.

'Obviously, from where British tennis should stand - and I say again, should stand - this is a bad loss,' Pickard said. 'I don't think you should be interviewing Ian Peacock (the LTA's chief executive), I think you should be having Richard Lewis in here, and you should be asking him what the bloody hell is going on. He's the head of national training. You should start asking him a few home truths, not hammering Peacock all the time.

'I'm not blaming the players at all. They did their job and they weren't good enough on the day. This is to do with how the future of British tennis is moulded. For the last three years, I have made an awful lot of suggestions and recommendations. Most of the things I've suggested have happened in a very watered-down form.

'Unless people start listening, and that includes Lewis, I can see no future in staying.'

Pickard, who has guided Sweden's Stefan Edberg to two Wimbledon championships and four other Grand Slam titles, directed a volley towards the national training centre at Bisham Abbey. 'Bisham Abbey should be shut,' he said. 'What has ever come out of Bisham Abbey? All the hundreds of thousands of pounds that's been spent there, and nothing's come out of it.'

'I'll give you one example. We run a scheme called the Rover Scheme. Basically, you cannot fault the Rover Scheme for the way that it blankets the country. But it doesn't have an end product. It's terrific the way it finds talent. It's after they find the talent that I want to see things happen.'

The inability of British players to play well on slow red clay, such as the court the lost on here, is one reason for poor performances. Even so, Pickard was dismissive of the latest LTA initiative, offering pounds 5,000 grants to up to 100 clubs to install clay courts.

'Don't get off on the hype about clay courts,' he said. 'What's the point of spending money on clay courts in our country when we can't use them at the right time of the year? All we need to do is take our players to tennis camps in Italy and France, and let them learn to play on them there.'

He is due to discuss with Peacock a new contract which could offer him a wider role with the LTA now that he is travelling less as Edberg's coach. 'Tony, I believe, is the best Davis Cup captain we have got, and I hope he continues,' Peacock said. 'He has been at the top of professional tennis for the last 10 years. He must have a lot to offer us.'

Pickard is less than optimistic that his ultimatum will succeed. 'I don't think I have a cat in hell's chance,' he said, 'but I'm going to try. I don't want to go. The game has been good to me. I honestly believe I have a lot to offer, and I want to help British tennis.'