Tennis: Britain signs French director

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The Independent Online
THE VOGUE for French coaches extended to tennis yesterday when Patrice Hagelauer was appointed by the Lawn Tennis Association to "lead the effort to turn talented young British players into world class professionals" in the wake of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski.

Hagelauer, 51, guided Yannick Noah to the French Open title in 1983, the first home success since Marcel Bernard in 1946, and was a major influence on France's subsequent Davis Cup triumphs as head coach of the French Tennis Federation.

As the LTA's first performance director, Hagelauer will work from an annual budget of pounds 4.5m to raise the standard of players, male and female, including juniors, and will have the power to hire and fire. He will head the national training team, which already includes Jeremy Bates, manager of men's tennis, Keith Wooldridge, manager of women's tennis, and Mark Cox, director of the LTA/Rover junior initiative.

John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive, described Hagelauer's role as "free from bureaucracy, a track-suited job with the players and coaches".

That suggests the Frenchman will be more than just another layer in the LTA's administration, although he will report on a daily basis to Richard Lewis, the LTA's director of tennis, who is part of a backing group, an "open forum" comprising members of the LTA's international and professional board, including Mike Hann, its chairman; Billy Knight, the former player, coach and Davis Cup captain; Crowther; David Lloyd, the Davis Cup captain; and Nick Brown, the Fed Cup captain.

Hagelauer was asked if he was puzzled by Britain's lack of success in spite of the prestige of Wimbledon and the millions the tournament raised for the LTA to develop the game.

"The actual situation is a good situation," he said, casting a glance from the All England Club's summer tea-room, where he was presented to the media. "You have two guys in the top 10 and you have a good chance to win the Davis Cup. Fifteen years ago in France we had Yannick Noah and Henri Leconte and very few players in the top 200. It starts with champions. You really have two great champions, and this will help the LTA to raise the juniors. You have some good kids coming. That was not the case a few years ago. It is a good time for me to come here."

Sir Geoffrey Cass, the LTA president, said: "I hope that he's going to bring some panache and Gallic flair to our players."

The problem in British tennis is that not enough people play the game. There are, for example, only 18,000 regular players who have a national rating, against 250,000 in France.